Staying Strong While Unemployed In Cleveland

Unemployment trickles down, too. When recession hits, all companies lose money. They let go of workers at all levels, from executives to IT specialists to security guards. And when a recession persists, like this one has, almost all companies cease to hire. Host Scott Simon talks to a group of unemployed Clevelanders about their efforts to find employment in that shrinking city.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Let's try to put human faces on some of these statistics about unemployment. We visited Anthony Caroselli(ph) of Palmer, Ohio, near Cleveland, last week, in a neat home on a leafy street that he shares with his wife, three sons, two cats, two dogs, and their children's snakes and spiders.

Mr. Caroselli is an electrician. He's been looking for full-time work for a year and a half. His wife works during the day and Mr. Caroselli is glad for the added time he can spend at home...

Mr. ANTHONY CAROSELLI (Electrician): (Unintelligible)

SIMON: ...with his youngest son, David, who's seven, before he takes him to school at noon. Mr. Caroselli is a proud member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 38. Each day, the union posts of list of jobs that open in Cuyahoga County. There are about 400 unemployed electricians in his local. Last week, Tony Caroselli was 45 on the list.

Mr. CAROSELLI: My business is based on people going out and getting loans and building.

(Soundbite of dog barking)

Mr. CAROSELLI: And if the economy's bad, that doesnt happen. So as soon as I go back to work now, I'll start socking money away. I'll live like I do now, on unemployment - for the first year, at least. Then when the next time comes, I'm prepared. I was prepared this time - luckily. You know, I wasnt prepared for a year and a half.

SIMON: Is it sometimes hard with your kids to be out of work?

Mr. CAROSELLI: Oh, every day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAROSELLI: They like to eat every day now.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. CAROSELLI: Sometimes more than once.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. CAROSELLI: You know, and it gets hard.

(Soundbite of dog barking)

Mr. CAROSELLI: You know, I sign I sign the out of work list at 259 and now I'm at 45. So I call every day. It's a recording. They just basically, they tell you if there's any work available. Last Friday there was nine jobs available. Eight of them were temporary jobs - two weeks or less.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CAROSELLI: So one permanent job, that's one guy in front of me went to work permanently. Everybody else will be back in two weeks.

(Soundbite of dog barking)

Mr. CAROSELLI: Go get your book bag together, because we got to get going here soon, Bud. All right, Buddy, you ready? Ready?

Unidentified Child: Yeah.

Mr. CAROSELLI: All right. Let's go.

(Soundbite of car door closing)

(Soundbite of children playing)

SIMON: Unemployment in Cleveland hovers just under 10 percent, according to Mayor Frank Jackson. It's no longer last in the nation, but only because parts of California, Florida and a few other places have lost more jobs. Unemployment trickles down too. When recession hits, all companies lose money. They let go of workers at all levels, from executives to IT specialists to security guards, and when a recession persists like this one has, almost all companies cease to hire.

We sat down with a group of people you would call long-term unemployed at the studios of WCPN, our member station in Cleveland. They range in age from their 30s to their 50s.

Randy Jameson is an IT worker who's been without a job for 16 months. Toni Chanakas is a graphic designer who worked briefly for the U.S. Census this year but last had a permanent job in January 2008. Mark Peters was a DHL driver before the company began to let people go two years ago.

We asked how they're getting along, living for a year and a half, two years, even more, without a job. Randy Jameson spoke first.

Mr. RANDY JAMESON (IT Professional): The frustration is not coming in little cat feet(ph) anymore. Way back when - I've been out 16 months now - the first few times, oh, its going to happen. I got plenty of time. Now when it doesnt happen, it's boom. You've really got to work a lot, extra hard, try to put a smile on your face and go for the next one.

SIMON: Okay.

Ms. TONI CHANAKAS (Graphic Designer): My name is Toni Chanakas and I live in the city of Cleveland. For me, this last year is kind of - I was optimistic because I got my Master's. I was in school, and I dont know what I was thinking, but once I got that Master's I'll apply for a few jobs - and that did not happen. So I'm still optimistic, but it's getting a little harder.

SIMON: Mark?

Mr. MARK PETERS (Driver): My last job I was a driver for DHL Express - was there 13 years. Then I went to heating and air conditioning school, figuring, you know, up here everybody's got heat, at least, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. PETERS: Yeah, that's been a little frustrating.

SIMON: How long have you been out of work?

Mr. PETERS: '08. October of '08. Our bathroom looks a lot nicer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Youve been cleaning it up?

Mr. PETERS: I don't know. I remodeled it, so I guess there were some positives there.

SIMON: You have nothing to be embarrassed about. But nonetheless, over the past year, year and a half or more, have sometimes been embarrassed?

Mr. JAMESON: On a really bad day, if emotions aren't running real high, the wife goes, why aren't you out there? Go down the street and knock on every single door. I said, dear, it just doesnt work that way, and she just doesnt want to believe it. So the nervousness and the frustration has absolutely got to the point where on a bad day, way off toward the horizon, I can see the beginnings of not frustrated - scared.

Ms. CHANAKAS: I hate to admit it. I think I am embarrassed, because I'm like they're probably looking at me like two years, what have you been doing? You know, and...

Mr. JAMESON: Yeah. Like youre wasting your time just sitting around - benefit checks, yeah.

Ms. CHANAKAS: And it's friends. I lost a lot of friends that just dont understand what's going on.

SIMON: Mark?

Mr. PETERS: You know, fortunately, I didnt, you know, live beyond my means, so I was able to have some money stashed in the bank. And I didnt listen to the real estate agent who told me I could afford twice as much house as I bought so, you know, those things have been pretty good. I, you know, I haven't really had to panhandle for cash, which would be obviously embarrassing.

SIMON: What's it meant to you...

Ms. CHANAKAS: What about fear? I'm - now I'm to the point where I'm scared to death that - I do have a house and I'm scared death.

SIMON: Forgive me, but when you say youre scared, youre scared of something even worse happening?

Ms. CHANAKAS: It's financial. I mean I hate to admit, you know, I have no insurance. You know, I dont have parents. It's just my sister and my brother and I and its - its just scary. I dont know.

SIMON: What do you want other people to know while we have the chance about what its like to be in the situation youre in?

Mr. JAMESON: Go ahead, Toni.

Ms. CHANAKAS: I just want to be out of my house.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHANAKAS: Even though I'm out all the time, but it's like, it's Sunday night and youre like, okay, well, what should I do tomorrow? It's Monday. Okay. I do my tutoring on Monday, or I go to the library or - I just want to -I want to be with people. I think some people take it for granted having a place to go.

Mr. JAMESON: When I tell someone, stick with it, try the best you can to have a positive attitude.

Ms. CHANAKAS: Yeah, I agree.

Mr. JAMESON: And on those days, when it just doesn't work and you just can't shake it or you can't sleep all night long - it generally doesn't ever happen two nights in a row or two days in a row - but try to smile. Always be honest.

Mr. PETERS: Yeah. Just be honest with yourself. And if you're out there looking, it doesn't make you a worse person if you're not employed right now. Just - you're the same person you were when you had a job. It's just, you know, maybe you don't buy ice cream from ice cream truck no more.

SIMON: Mark Peters of Cleveland.

I don't know about the ice cream truck, but Tony Caroselli�says there'll be no real vacations, no boat rides for his family this summer. He's still out of work and gasoline is expensive. He says that he'll do whatever he has to do to support his family, and that includes keeping a cheerful outlook. A Local 38 job line posts jobs a little after noon, so Mr. Caroselli�drops his son David off at school before calling. He's not the only father on the playground.

Mr. CAROSELLI: Hey, there's a lot - this is a big area for construction workers, especially union guys like myself. And we see each other here. We don't see each on the jobs anymore. So it's a bad time for guys like me.

SIMON: I've got to tell you, I am - I'm really impressed by your positive outlook and I don't think you're just blowing smoke. I mean, I think you've got this figured pretty well.

Mr. CAROSELLI: Well, it's getting harder now because I've been off for so long. And the savings is starting to dwindle and we've still got a Christmas in there coming. And, you know, if I could go back to work - at this point, if go back to work, within the next two months I can probably get back on my feet without skipping a beat, no problem.

SIMON: Well, let's call right now, if you wouldn't mind.

Mr. CAROSELLI: Sure.

(Soundbite of phone ringing)

Unidentified Man: Good afternoon. There is a two week hit here. It's at Hillcrest Hospital. Third shift (unintelligible) for two weeks, for two wire men(ph), nonsmoking, drug card required. This job will start for unemployed members at 2:00 p.m. today.

Mr. CAROSELLI: So that's a two week temporary call for two guys.

SIMON: So is that something you can qualify for? Is that a job? Is that good news?

Mr. CAROSELLI: Is that a job? Yes. I would qualify for that. But there's 45 guys ahead of me too. At least 30 of them qualify for that.

SIMON: Yesterday, Tony Caroselli�had moved up to number 35 on that list. Maybe he'll get through the two months he sees as his limit and land a job after more than a year and a half. His health care coverage ran out just on Tuesday. He receives his last unemployment check next week. I watched him walk his son to school hand in hand. The little boy wore a shiny blue backpack that said superhero. And when he held his father's hand, he didn't think of Spiderman.

Next week, Cleveland's Cuyahoga County was Ground Zero for the foreclosure crisis in 2008. What's happened to those homes and neighborhoods? Our thanks to WCPN in Cleveland.

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