Long-Term Unemployed Face Hard Choices

Rick Solomon i i

Rick Solomon, who lives in Lone Tree, Colo., lost his job 10 months ago and has been doing a lot of networking to find a full-time position. Jeff Brady/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jeff Brady/NPR
Rick Solomon

Rick Solomon, who lives in Lone Tree, Colo., lost his job 10 months ago and has been doing a lot of networking to find a full-time position.

Jeff Brady/NPR

Since the start of the recession, the number of people classified as "long-term unemployed" has tripled. There are 3.9 million people who have been looking for work for six months or longer, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Jonel Beach, 28, spent most of the past year looking for a job. There were a few brief employment stints — one as a maid, and another selling a suspicious financial product — but she has not been able to find anything like the project manager job she had for a St. Louis company that makes books.

After a series of adventures, she has landed in Denver, where, without a home, Beach moves from friend's house to friend's house. She has even developed a more efficient way to move all of her clothes.

Getting By With A Closet On Wheels

"I call it my closet on wheels," Beach says with a little nervous laughter. It's a lightweight metal rack she bought on Craigslist.

It's been a tough year for Beach; a couple of times she was close to going hungry. She remembers trying to make a Clementine mandarin orange last an entire day. While waiting for the perfect job, she has lowered her expectations. Recently, she took a position in a call center that dispatches people who repair ATMs.

"No, it's not my dream job, and no, it doesn't pay what I need it to pay to really make all my credit card payments," Beach says. "But it's definitely a start. And just having somewhere to be every day is huge; [it helps] from letting life get to you."

Perfecting The Art Of Networking

Keeping busy is important for Rick Solomon, too. He was a planner for the city of Aurora, Colo., for 23 years until a developer convinced him to join the private sector. But when the economy tanked, so did his job.

"I know there's a golden needle for me out there hiding, but it's in a thousand haystacks," says Solomon, who has spent the past 10 months transforming his already healthy networking skills into a high art.

"The network helps me feel that I have other people helping me search these haystacks. I'm not doing it all by myself," he says. On Thursday, he attended a meeting for the local chapter of the International Council of Shopping Centers, a group that includes people who own, develop and manage shopping centers.

Solomon says he spends evenings looking through online job boards. During the day, he meets with developers and other planners, hoping to make a connection that will lead to a new job.

"I don't want to be looked at as stale bread," he says. "I need to stay on top of the activities, events, changing environment that's happening right now."

Despite the sad state of the development industry, Solomon has had a few promising bites recently. He has a few more months before his unemployment benefits run out. And his wife works, so his financial situation is nowhere near as desperate as Beach's. Still, he says, if something doesn't happen soon, he may have to lower his job expectations.

"It may be multiple part-time jobs, or something that you might think is demeaning for someone with a master's degree to take," Solomon says. "But you have to do what you have to do to not be out on the street."

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