MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The unemployment rate now stands at a stubborn 9.2 percent. That's a bit higher than when we began our series the Road Back to Work. All year, we've been following the fortunes of six St. Louis residents who've been searching for work.

Today, they are all working, but these are not unqualified success stories. Four are in temporary or contract jobs, and one, Randy Howland, has a more permanent position that leaves him yearning for something better.

Tamara Keith has his story.

TAMARA KEITH: In the months since Randy Howland was first hired as a customer service representative, his excitement to have a job - any job - has turned to defeat.

Mr. RANDY HOWLAND (Customer Service Representative): This is Randy, and it's June 4th, and this is an anniversary day. I've had my $10-an-hour job now for four months.

KEITH: Howland is keeping an audio diary to document his experience in this post-recession labor market. As you might expect, even with his new job, money is still a problem. He and his wife, Lisa, have let the registration lapse on one of their cars because they can't afford it.

Mr. HOWLAND: We still have to borrow a lot of money from my mother-in-law, at least every other month. I'm about to go to the bank now to dispute an $8.95 charge.

Mr. HOWLAND: (Singing) Money, money, money, money, money, money, money...

KEITH: Back when Howland was bringing in a six-figure salary, there's no way he would have gone to the trouble of driving to the bank to deal with such a small charge.

Mr. HOWLAND: But every little thing.

KEITH: Howland's job for a major telecom company is basically call-center work, except from home. And because he's working from home, he's let his hair grow out and added a goatee. And why not? He's working from a cramped home office, never sees his boss, never sees the people he's talking to.

Mr. HOWLAND: It's Wednesday, June 8th. It's just slightly after two, and in 40 minutes I start my shift, three to midnight, customer service. I had an interesting one yesterday. I had somebody just yelling and yelling and yelling at me. But I calmed him down.

KEITH: Howland had been out of work for more than a year when he finally found this job. But he hasn't stopped searching for something else, something with better pay, better hours.

Mr. HOWLAND: Well, it's June 14. Looks like the beard comes off. I just got a phone call for an interview tomorrow morning, haven't had an interview since, what, January.

KEITH: He isn't sure how the company found him or exactly why they're interested in him, but he's excited. Conveniently, Howland's wife, Lisa, is a hairdresser, so he only has to go to her home salon in the basement for a trim.

The next morning, he's all dressed up in a suit ready to go. Lisa removes stray cat hairs with a pet roller.

Ms. LISA HOWLAND: I'm really glad he's got an interview. He seems pretty relaxed about it, which is a wonderful thing because before he was always so nervous and worried about going on an interview that it's nice to see him relaxed and not all uptight and everything. I hated cutting his long hair and shaving his beard off, but you know, it just had to be done.

KEITH: For Randy and so many people struggling through this rocky job market, hope is a precious commodity, and just getting dressed up for this interview gives him hope that he might be on his way to more financial stability. He gets to the company's offices early and sits in the car waiting.

Mr. HOWLAND: This is probably the least prepared I've been for an interview in a long, long, long time. There was no information given, really, on the phone or on the email about it. And the company website doesn't really say a lot. It says customer service management, promote from within.

KEITH: Howland has applied for hundreds of jobs. He knows what he wants and what he doesn't want. And what he wants is a regular job with regular hours and a regular salary. He doesn't want an all-commission position doing sales. And so when this company called to invite him to an interview, he specifically asked about that. The interview doesn't last long.

Mr. HOWLAND: It was to be a door-to-door salesperson, exactly what I didn't want it to be.

KEITH: He calls Lisa to vent as he drives home.

Mr. HOWLAND: Yeah and I wasn't a jerk about it, but, yeah, I let them know it was misleading. Yes, you cut my hair for nothing, honey. It'll grow back, you know.

KEITH: And the search continues. Tamara Keith, NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org 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.