The Road Back To Work

NPR is following six people in the St. Louis area who started 2011 unemployed and searching for work. They are keeping audio diaries to document their experience.

Unemployment Rate

St. Louis
Dec. 2011
Jan. 2012

Hear Their Stories

Photo of Brian Barfield


  • Status: Hired on Feb. 19, 2011 (part-time/occasional)
  • Position:
    Forklift driver

Brian's Diary

Photo of Jennifer Barfield


  • Status: Hired on Feb. 5, 2012 (after 3 months unemployed)
  • Position wanted:
    IT support

Jennifer's Diary

Photo of Casaundra Bronner


  • Status: Hired March 28, 2010 (full time)
  • Position:
    Marketing at an event planning firm

Casaundra's Diary

Photo of Randal Howland


  • Status: Hired on Jan. 9, 2012 (after 4 months unemployed)
  • Position wanted:
    Customer service / collections

Randy's Diary

Photo of Ray Meyer


  • Status: Hired on Mar. 1, 2011 (temporary)
  • Position:
    Data entry

Ray's Diary

Photo of Annica Trotter


  • Status: Hired on Mar. 15, 2011 (full time)
  • Position:

Annica's Diary

Latest Updates

When The Road Back To Work Detours()  

Randy Howland works in his small office in March, shortly after he began a work-from-home job with a call center earning $10 an hour.

December 30, 2011 For the long-term unemployed, getting a job isn't always the end of the story. In the next installment of NPR's Road Back to Work series, we check in with Randy Howland and Jennifer Barfield who both find themselves searching for work once again.


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Squabbles In Washington Frustrate Job Seekers()  

Ray Meyer, 55, had a 30-year career in banking before losing his job. He's been rolling from one temp assignment to the next since February.

November 16, 2011 Since September, President Obama and Republicans in Congress have been fighting over jobs. With so much political focus on jobs, NPR checks back in with the people we've been following as part of our Road Back to Work series. They started the year unemployed and searching for work.


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Bumps On The Road Back To Work()  

Casaundra Bronner returned to work in July and says being able to walk her daughters to the bus in the morning is one of the benefits of her new job at a small company.

September 5, 2011 Like some 14 million Americans, the people in our series The Road Back to Work started the year unemployed and searching for a job. Nine months later, all six of the St. Louis residents are working, but their struggles continue.


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Hope: A Precious Commodity In This Job Market()  

Before and after shots of Randy Howland. Howland grew out his hair and beard while working from home but decided to cut it off before a job interview.

July 12, 2011 In the months since Randy Howland, 51, was first hired as a customer service representative, his excitement of having a job has turned to defeat. As part of the Road Back to Work series, we catch up with Howland — who was out of work for more than a year — as he prepares for a job interview for what he hopes is a better position.


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Finding Love While Searching For Work()  

Brian and Jennifer Barfield met at a networking group for the unemployed. This is one of their engagement photos.

May 25, 2011 Brian and Jennifer Barfield met at a networking group for unemployed professionals in St. Louis. They've been married for seven months now, and they've never really known normal, at least not in the job department. Having both husband and wife unemployed put stress on their relationship.


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Returning To Work: The Satisfaction Of Having A Job()  

Lisa Howland says her husband, Randy, smiles a lot more now that he's working, even though the job doesn't pay enough to cover all their bills.

April 14, 2011 Randy Howland and Ray Meyer are working again, though the jobs aren't ideal. They're earning far less than they did before losing their jobs at the height of the recession. And while they could easily dwell on the negative, both men say they're happy.


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The Thrill Of A Job, And The Worry Over Digging Out()  

Annica Trotter prepares for a day at work at her new job as a receptionist.

March 31, 2011 Annica Trotter's struggle to find work is over after five stressful months. But the financial woes aren't over for Trotter and her boyfriend. They still have to dig out from a mountain of bills before they can get married and do more to provide for their children.


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For Long-Term Unemployed, The Hunt Continues()  

Casaundra Bronner, 39, of Hazelwood, Mo., worked in marketing before being laid off  in March 2010 from Anheuser-Busch.

March 16, 2011 In St. Louis, Ray Meyer lost his banking job two years ago and Casaundra Bronner has been unemployed since March 2010. They keep hustling, applying for jobs and networking, but it seems that the longer they're out of work, the harder it is to get back in.


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The Relief Of Finding A Less-Than-Perfect Job()  

Roni Chambers, executive director of Go! Network (right), checks in Jennifer Barfield, 47, and her husband, Brian Barfield, 53, at a job networking meeting in downtown St. Louis.

February 23, 2011 Randy Howland took a customer service position that pays $10 an hour just to get back into an industry he loves. Many Americans are settling for less. Some, like Brian Barfield, are even taking part-time jobs to tide them over while they continue to search for full-time employment.


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The Strain Adds Up: Bills, Baby And A Job Search()  

Annica Trotter, 25, is feeling financially stressed by her job search. She recently had to cancel her Internet service and car insurance.

February 1, 2011 Annica Trotter, 25, is struggling to find work while she cares for her 4-month-old son. She has been out of work for just a few months, but the stress is mounting. Trotter and her boyfriend recently had to cancel their car insurance and Internet access to make ends meet.


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Finding The Path Toward Employment In St. Louis()  

Randal Howland, 50, of St. Louis, lost his job over a year ago.

January 17, 2011 Six unemployed residents of the area have vastly different backgrounds. But they all share one goal — finding a job. In St. Louis, the labor market and unemployment rate are very similar to the rest of the nation. NPR begins a year-long journey, following these residents in their quest for work.


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Sourcing Assistance

Sources for this project were identified through the Public Insight Network of American Public Media, The Nine Network of Public Media, the St. Louis Beacon, and St. Louis Public Radio. If you want to be a news source for journalists, go to to sign up. Just share who you are, how to reach you, and some information about your expertise and experience.