Unemployed Keep Busy As Weeks Become Months There are now 6.1 million people who have been out of work for six months or more. The average duration of unemployment is well past anything the U.S. has seen in the past 30 years.
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Unemployed Keep Busy As Weeks Become Months

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Unemployed Keep Busy As Weeks Become Months

Unemployed Keep Busy As Weeks Become Months

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

A better-than-expected jobs report, released yesterday, shows the unemployment rate held firm in February. It's an indication that the economy is close to the point where it will begin creating more jobs than it loses every month. NPR's Tamara Keith introduces us to some people who are dealing with long-term unemployment.

TAMARA KEITH: There are now more than 6.1 million people who have been out of work for six months or more. For Trenda Kennedy(ph) in Springfield, Illinois, it's been more than a year.

Ms. TRENDA KENNEDY: It's tough.

KEITH: She's 41 years old, and had been working at a construction firm.

Ms. KENNEDY: They decided to close their office here in Illinois. Me, being the person that ran the office, obviously lost my job.

KEITH: Kennedy is hoping to get a job in the criminal justice field. And when she's not sending out resumes, she's doing volunteer work. Kennedy says her life has changed dramatically.

Ms. KENNEDY: I had to go and file for food stamps, which I've never done in my whole life, just because I didn't want my son to go hungry.

KEITH: She had a job interview this week and thinks it went well.

Charles McKinney(ph) is 39, and he's been out of work for two years, ever since getting laid off from his job as a contract worker at a Toyota assembly plant in Indiana.

Mr. CHARLES MCKINNEY: You just feel like you need to work. You know, you feel like you need to be a provider. And that bothered me. Because even though I had unemployment coming in, when I got laid off, my income dropped by two-thirds.

KEITH: McKinney decided the best thing he could do was go back to college and pick up some new skills. He's learning how to repair the computer systems and robots found in modern auto factories.

Mr. MCKINNEY: It's just, everything is going to that nowadays. And you just either got to learn it or be out in the cold, you know?

KEITH: So, what do people do when the job search drags on? Frank Zilinyi (ph) got creative.

Mr. FRANK ZILINYI: Basically it's like OK, I'm off of Wall Street, and it doesn't look like my specialty is going to be wanting me anytime soon. What do I do now?

KEITH: Two years after getting laid off from well-paying Wall Street, he's substitute teaching, got a paying gig singing in a church choir, and is teaching voice lessons. He's also trying to get voiceover work.

Mr. ZILINYI: I've stitched together a number of jobs, just knocking on all kinds of doors that I haven't thought about knocking on in a long time. But with the unemployment status, I suddenly have the time to try things again.

KEITH: Fifty-six-year-old Ralph Fuhr has been on the job market for four months. He's spent the last 20 years as an IT manager, and now finds himself applying for jobs that only require five years of experience.

Mr. RALPH FUHR: The salaries I'm going after are probably 60 percent of what I made back in 2003 and 2004. You know, it's better than zero money - or $560 of unemployment that's soon to run out.

KEITH: He's interviewing for jobs all over the country and is preparing for the possibility of selling the house he shares with his wife and 10-year-old son.

Mr. FUHR: I have a little hobby now. I decided I need to find some money, so I now sold my first items on eBay. So I'm cleaning out the basement and selling things.

KEITH: What Fuhr and the others seem to understand intuitively is that the longer they're out of the workforce, the harder it will be to get back in.

Gary Burtless is a labor economist at the Brookings Institution.

Mr. GARY BURTLESS (Labor Economist, Brookings Institution): And the question that a lot of employers ask themselves, when they look at these applications, is why has this person been unemployed so long?

KEITH: But with 6 million people in the same situation, he figures some employers might be a little more understanding.

Mr. BURTLESS: Maybe the stigmatizing effects of being unemployed so long will diminish because more of us will know, there but for the grace of God go I.

KEITH: What's that gap in my resume? Oh, that's when I was out of work, along with millions of other Americans.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.

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