Long-Term Unemployed In Limbo Over Benefits

President Obama singled out a handful of unemployed Americans in remarks yesterday, calling for the extension of unemployment benefits. One of them was Jim Chukalas a former auto dealership parts manager, who stood at the president’s side on Monday. Host Michel Martin speaks with him and with our regular financial expert Alvin Hall about the financial challenges confronting the long-term unemployed.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Today we're going to spend a good chunk of the program talking about jobs and employment and unemployment. Now most people know that small businesses create the majority of jobs. But did you know that the number of minority and women-owned businesses in this country exploded before the recession. Their gains far outpace the firm's owned by other groups. But what about now? We'll ask how these small businesses are fairing during this downturn. That's a little later.

But first, unemployment. The Senate votes today on whether to extend unemployment benefits for millions of Americans. Democrats have tried several times to approve another extension while Republicans have blocked the latest effort arguing that the country cannot afford it.

President Obama has had some harsh words for them. And yesterday he chastised Republicans in remarks at the White House claiming that the same senators who balk at the unemployment extension have no qualms offering tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans.

The president was joined by three unemployed people who have depended on those extended benefits, including Jim Chukalas. Here it is.

President BARACK OBAMA: Jim worked as a parts manager at a Honda dealership until about two years ago. He's posted resumes everywhere. He's gone door to door looking for jobs. But he hasn't gotten a single interview. Now he's trying to be strong for his two young kids, but now that he's exhausted his unemployment benefits, that's getting harder to do.

MARTIN: Jim Chukalas is on the line with us now from his home in Fredon Township, New Jersey. And we've also called our regular contributor on matters of the economy and personal finance Alvin Hall. Welcome to you both. He's with us from New York. Welcome to you both, thanks for joining us.

Mr. JIM CHUKALAS: Thank you very much.

ALVIN HALL: You're welcome.

MARTIN: First to you, Alvin. With the swearing in of the new Democratic senator from West Virginia, Carte Goodwin replaces Robert Byrd, who of course passed away last month. The Democrats apparently can overcome Republican opposition and get 60 votes to pass the extension. So if Congress does approve this legislation, what does it mean?

HALL: It means that over 2.8 million people who have lost their unemployment benefits will get them back. I don't think health benefits are a part of the bill, the subsidy that came with the original package. But at least people would get enough money to be able to cover some of their costs and put food on the table and at least feel they have a safety net.

MARTIN: Jim, you were with the president yesterday, as we spoke, and I just want to ask, what was that like?

Mr. CHUKALAS: It was awe-inspiring. It really was. In a million years, I've said this dozens of times in the last 36 hours, I never thought I'd be in that position ever in my life. And just to have faces behind the argument, I think hopefully will help. But meeting the president was definitely a thrill.

MARTIN: How have you been holding up? Do I have it right that you received your final unemployment check last week? Do I have that right?

Mr. CHUKALAS: Yes, that is correct.

MARTIN: Do you mind if I ask how much it was for and does it cover your basic expenses?

Mr. CHUKALAS: Well, biweekly it was $1,120. That standing by itself did not cover my family's expenses. I mean fortunately my wife is still working. Her company went through two waves of layoffs and fortunately she was not one of the casualties. If she was, we would be in even more dire straits. But it's been a challenge. We've been living from week to week, from paycheck to paycheck and having to budget, you know, where we, you know, spend and how we spend. And it's just been challenging.

And if the benefits do, you know, run out and the bill does not get passed, you know, it may become even more of a challenge.

MARTIN: How have you been managing? Have you had to dip into savings or are you able, with your wife's salary, to cover your basic expenses?

Mr. CHUKALAS: We've had to dip into savings. To be completely honest, we had a nest egg that was set for a rainy day and it started pouring about a year and a half ago. And we had to use, you know, the savings, unfortunately, to keep making ends meet. I mean my children, before I lost my job, were involved with extracurricular stuff. But, you know, either we had to find a different way to pay for it. And unfortunately family members have stepped up to help us out with that, to keep my kids on as much as a regular schedule as they can be on.

MARTIN: Jim, can I just ask you, though, how many jobs do you think you have applied for? The president presented kind of a real effort on your part. Tell me - how many do you think you've applied for?

Mr. CHUKALAS: I would say probably hundreds, to be completely honest. The first couple of months that I was out of work, I was going door to door, county to county, you know, to dealerships, to car dealerships and just dropping off resumes. I had my resumes posted on Monster and Careerbuilder, which I still do. And then I guess the resume people at Monster said based on my qualifications, I guess buzz words on my resume, that I should look for jobs in logistics. Inventory purchasing, you know, warehouse management, things of that nature.

So I've been expanding my search. But unfortunately I have had literally no hits in almost two years. And it's discouraging, but I'm not going to give up because I need to get back to the workplace. My wife and I have been able to survive, fortunately, you know. There are people worse off than we are that aren't surviving, but we're surviving, but it's time we start living again.

And, you know, it would be a nice feeling to have my kids see me walk out of the house going to work, you know, rather than not. I mean I know they like the fact that I'm here to take care of them, but, you know, my wife jokes I'm a lousy housekeeper, I'm worse cook. But, you know, I would love to get back into the workforce again.

MARTIN: Alvin, do you have any advice for Jim? I know you just met and it sounds to me like he's doing everything he can do. I'm not really sure what else he can do.

HALL: There are some things he can do. And I think the people at Monster.com directed him really, really well. He needs to look beyond the dealerships. I think in this type of economy, you need to look in other areas where your skills can be useful. Visit the websites of the companies that you're looking at and therefore use the buzz words and the language of that company so that you build an instant comfort level when they see your resume.

The people I've known to get jobs in the shortest amount of time have been those who have used personal connections. So if you have family members who work for companies that will use inventory management, you know friends who are doing that, tap into that network. Those personal connections will often yield more than just posting a resume on a website.

And the other thing I think everybody needs to realize no matter how long you're unemployed, part of it is learning the art of having multiple resumes. Your resume must somehow fit the need of people. People go through resumes now like, you know, turning pages in a book when they see a lot of them there and they look for certain words. If you can give your - the top line of your resume, the top portion those words that echo what you see at the company's website, echo the feeling of the company, it gives you an in at least. At least they might give you an interview.

Mr. CHUKALAS: Okay.

MARTIN: Okay. Well, thanks for that, Alvin.

Jim, a final thought from you. It's been interesting for us. Oftentimes, we have difficulty getting men to talk about these experiences. Often when we seek out people to get their feedback about what they're going through, a lot of times men will just say no, they don't want to talk about it. I'm curious what it's been like for you to have your situation now be discussed throughout the country.

Mr. CHUKALAS: Well, you know, it's been a challenge. As far as that goes, my phone hasn't stopped ringing all morning. I got home from D.C. yesterday. I drove back up and I called my wife, I said, I'm on the turnpike, I'll be home shortly and she said there were four messages for you on the phone. I was, like, okay, great. And it's not that I'm ashamed of my situation, it happens. It happened to a heck of a lot more people than I have. But if my story can get out there and, you know, if it helps other people, if it helps me for that matter, then that's a step in the right direction.

MARTIN: Well, keep in touch, we appreciate it.

Mr. CHUKALAS: I definitely will.

MARTIN: Jim Chukalas is with us from Fredon Township, New Jersey. The president highlighted his circumstances in his speech yesterday, promoting a passage of an extension of unemployment benefits. Also with us, Alvin Hall. He's our regular contributor on matters of personal finance and the economy. He was with us from New York. Gentlemen, thank you.

Mr. CHUKALAS: Thank you very much.

HALL: You're welcome.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.