Jobless Factory Worker Trains For Office Work
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Taking what they can get is what an Upstate New York couple is doing right now.
North Country Public Radio's David Sommerstein reports.
DAVID SOMMERSTEIN: Charlene Carpenter(ph) lost her job three days before Christmas last year. She made high-tech glass lenses at a Corning plant in Canton, New York. Her husband Randy had been laid off from a pallet mill three months earlier. They're both in their late 40s. And the motto in the Carpenter household this year was...
Ms. CHARLENE CARPENTER: Simpler is easier. It's better. Probably not easier, but it's better.
SOMMERSTEIN: That means no cable TV or Internet, no big-ticket items. Their single-wide trailer set among dairy farms and hayfields is humble, cozy and paid off. Since the lay offs, Randy's found work at the growing Fort Drum Army base, an hour away. Charlene collects unemployment.
Ms. CARPENTER: We have our little splurges every so often, you know, and we'll still go out to dinner once in a while. And I still spend money on the granddaughter.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SOMMERSTEIN: The bright spot in Charlene's jobless year has been two-year-old Riley(ph).
RILEY: I had one (unintelligible)?
Ms. CARPENTER: Yeah. What color is yours?
SOMMERSTEIN: Charlene and Riley feed each other Tic Tacs and cuddle on a well-worn couch. Charlene watches her granddaughter two days a week. On the other days, she tiptoes towards a new career. She took a medical terminology class to become a receptionist in a doctor's office.
Ms. CARPENTER: I think it was only the first week, and I'm like, oh, my God. What did I do? Because it really was pretty intense.
SOMMERSTEIN: Like laid-off manufacturing workers everywhere, Charlene's skills don't translate well to the desktop job market. She was learning Microsoft Word and Excel as a beginner.
Ms. CARPENTER: Taking the class made me realize that there were a lot of people that knew a whole lot more than me that would probably get jobs over me.
SOMMERSTEIN: Did that freak you out a little bit?
Ms. CARPENTER: I felt inadequate. And then after, like, when the classes - after I started realizing, you know, this is just for me, you know, and it doesn't matter what other people know, it got a lot better.
SOMMERSTEIN: Job training for training's sake. In that approach, Charlene's in good company.
Ms. JEAN HANSON(ph) (Senior Employment Coordinator): Don't anybody print for a second. We're going to do a resume.
SOMMERSTEIN: This is a job training class at the state-run One Stop WorkSource, where Charlene Carpenter took her medical terminology course. It's where the unemployed come to find jobs. But these days, senior employment coordinator Jean Hanson says the focus is on training.
Ms. HANSON: Because if our focus is on helping people to find jobs, we would have a dismal success rate.
SOMMERSTEIN: Unemployment's still at 10 percent. The number of welfare recipients in this rural part if Upstate New York has jumped 15 to 20 percent. Hanson says the scariest thing right now is that people like Charlene Carpenter will be running out of jobless benefits soon. Hanson predicts a tsunami of jobseekers.
Ms. HANSON: They want to work. You know, they want to pay their bills. They're going to lose their unemployment insurance, and there is not going to be a job for each and every one of those people.
SOMMERSTEIN: Back at the Carpenter's, Charlene's daughter Carissa(ph) picks up Riley and she rolls her eyes at the box of sugary Tic Tacs.
Ms. CARPENTER: I guess she's feeling very privileged.
Ms. CARISSA CARPENTER: I bet (unintelligible).
SOMMERSTEIN: It was Carissa who needled her mother to take the medical terminology class and look for office work in the first place.
Ms. CARISSA CARPENTER: I mean, you could always rely on McDonalds to hire you, but if they're losing sales, they're not even going to be hiring. So even, you can't even get one of the - pardon that, what, crap jobs anymore, you know.
SOMMERSTEIN: Charlene still holds out hope that the Corning plant might rehire her. If not, she might just forget the job search and take care of Riley full time. With Randy's job at Fort Drum and their simple lifestyle, she says they're doing okay. The Carpenters' biggest fear is if one of them gets sick. They make too much to qualify for New York's low-income health insurance.
Ms. CARPENTER: I don't know how you want to say it. I'm just gliding along, waiting to see what happens. It's so uncertain. What could be good today can turn upside down tomorrow. So...
SOMMERSTEIN: And how are you with that?
Ms. CARPENTER: Scared. I mean, I lose sleep over it, honestly, but you just have to keep your head level, I guess.
SOMMERSTEIN: It's the only way, Charlene says, when a job may be too much to wish for.
For NPR News, I'm David Sommerstein in northern New York.
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