A Tale Of Two Unemployed Auto Workers Troubles in the U.S. auto industry are affecting workers in Canada. But how do the two nations address unemployment? We get the story from Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Mich.
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A Tale Of Two Unemployed Auto Workers

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A Tale Of Two Unemployed Auto Workers

A Tale Of Two Unemployed Auto Workers

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ALEX COHEN, host:

This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Cohen. President Obama is in Ottawa today meeting with Canadian leaders, including Prime Minister Steven Harper, on the agenda, energy, the environment, and of course, the economy. Recently, record numbers on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border have lost their jobs as the auto industry continues its downward spiral. We bring you now two reports on how unemployed auto workers are coping. The first comes from Windsor, Ontario. Here's Detroit Public Radio's Sarah Cwiek.

SARAH CWIEK: Windsor and Detroit share a stretch of river front, one of the world's busiest commercial border crossings and regional economies highly depended on the North American auto industry. And with that industry in a downward spiral, the Windsor and Detroit areas now have another shared trait, skyrocketing unemployment.

Unidentified Woman: Use a telephone to contact employers.

CWIEK: Windsor's unemployment offices are located in its downtown municipal center. It's busy on a week day afternoon. A poster on the wall advertises that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are hiring, but they're one of the few who are. Security Guard Dawn Duncan says in recent weeks, lines at the unemployment insurance office have been out the door.

Ms. DAWN DUNCAN (Security Guard, Windsor Municipal Center): It's been very high, and the numbers we're getting, anywhere between 100 people a day up to 900 people a day.

CWIEK: The unemployment systems that jobless Windsorites and Detroiters navigate share many similarities and a few crucial differences. Perhaps the biggest difference is that U.S. jobless benefits are distributed by state governments while Canada's are administered by a federal agency called, Service Canada. In addition to unemployment, known as regular benefits, Service Canada is responsible for a number of other social entitlements.

Guy Langlois(ph) has been unemployed since last May when he was laid off from an auto related tool and dye business. Langlois says his regular benefits will run out in three weeks, and he's looking to go back to school with government help.

Mr. GUY LANGLOIS: Well, I'm going - trying to get back into school and going through the assessment center, and there was a long four or five months waiting for them to figure out what's going on to send me back to school. So it was a long drawn out summertime through the government is all - everything's confused.

CWIEK: Langlois says he's been receiving $340 a week in regular benefits. As in the U.S., Canadian unemployment benefits are funded by taxes on a percentage of workers' income. The Canadian government calculates benefits using a formula that takes into account a worker's earnings, how long they've been out of work, and the unemployment rate in their area. How long you can receive benefits is determined by a similar formula, with a maximum of 45 weeks.

After unemployment benefits expire, many Canadians are eligible to receive social assistance funds. That's what Doug Borren(ph) has been surviving on since he was laid off from his job as an auto parts contractor a year ago. Borren says he's making ends meet, but only barely.

Mr. DOUG BORREN: It provides a place to live. It's - they give you like $540 a month. My rent's 400, so side bells and everything else, it's not - it's just enough to get by.

CWIEK: Borren is in front of the Service Canada offices with resumes in hand ready to prove to case workers that he's still actively looking for work. He says he's given up on the auto industry, but he's optimistic he'll eventually find a job in Windsor. Guy Langlois doesn't share Borren's optimism. Langlois says once he finishes school, he's leaving both the auto industry and Windsor behind.

Mr. LANGLOIS: Soon as I'm done with my schooling, me and my wife are going to look somewhere else. Absolutely. There's nothing here left in Windsor, nothing left.

CWIEK: Service Canada estimates Windsor's current unemployment rate at 10.5 percent. That number will almost certainly grow as automakers and other businesses and their supply chain cut even more workers in the coming months. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Cwiek.

CELESTE HEADLEE: I'm Celeste Headlee in Michigan, where joblessness is nearing 11 percent, and many people who thought they'd keep their jobs until retirement are now trying to navigate the state unemployment system. One of them is Martez Bleau(ph). He was an analyst at International Paper, helping to make the corrugated cartons used to ship car hoods and doors to stamping plants and factories.

Mr. MARTEZ BLEAU: We went from 14, roughly, lines producing materials for, like, Chrysler and Ford and those type of companies down to seven lines, down to three lines, down to one shift. And you know, we were still hopeful, OK, you know, things will get better, but they just didn't.

HEADLEE: Bleau got a layoff notice in November and lost his job on January 16th.

Mr. BLEAU: It just seemed like the type of job that I would always have. And when we got that news, it was just like, wow.

HEADLEE: Although he had 60 days to prepare, Bleau did nothing at first. He says he was delusional, thinking he might somehow keep his job. And he'd heard it can be a nightmare to file for state benefits in Michigan. But for Bleau, it was easy. He says he registered online and started receiving his unemployment checks not long after. The only snag has been the size of the check.

Mr. BLEAU: Because right now I'm like around 485 roughly, and like my rent is 500 by itself.

HEADLEE: That's $485 every two weeks, or about $970 a month.

Mr. BLEAU: I might have to skip a meal or something here. I still got - I got something to be able to try and get by.

HEADLEE: And that's all the benefits he receives from the unemployment office. Bleau says health care is out of the question.

Mr. BLEAU: I don't have any. I can't afford that. I can't afford to pay for medical insurance and rent. So I have to have a place to stay or medical insurance. And my car is not roomy enough to live in.

HEADLEE: But Bleau is lucky in one respect. He lost his job because of increased foreign imports. So he's eligible for help through the Trade Adjustment Assistance program. TAA offers money for job training and income support. Bleau's training to be a patient care technician.

Mr. BLEAU: I wanted to do something like a medical assistant. I need something that I can do within, say, a month to like a three month period and get certified and get back to work.

HEADLEE: Right now, he has a little bit of severance money left, and he cashed in his IRA when he left International Paper. Ideally, he'll find a new job before that money runs out because he won't be able to make it on what he gets from unemployment insurance.

Mr. BLEAU: I'm hopeful, you know, that it doesn't happen, but I've taken some steps to, you know, scale some spending back and turn in my beautiful car and get a used car. You know, things like that to make it a little bit easier.

HEADLEE: Workers in Michigan can get 26 weeks of benefits, and they may be eligible for more under the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. But Bleau says being unemployed is like having a full time job.

Mr. BLEAU: I get up in the morning. I check monster.com. I check adecomanpower, kellyservice, snowing to see if they have anything.

HEADLEE: And Bleau says staying busy can keep your spirits up, which is the number one priority for those who've lost their jobs and are trying to scrape by on less than $1,000 a month.

Mr. BLEAU: I know it's hard, but it's pretty much all you have is to stay optimistic and to stay positive that things are going to turn around and get better.

HEADLEE: Celeste Headlee, NPR News, Detroit.

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