Finding The Path Toward Employment In St. Louis Six unemployed residents of the area have vastly different backgrounds. But they all share one goal — finding a job. In St. Louis, the labor market and unemployment rate are very similar to the rest of the nation. NPR begins a year-long journey, following these residents in their quest for work.
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Finding The Path Toward Employment In St. Louis

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Finding The Path Toward Employment In St. Louis

Finding The Path Toward Employment In St. Louis

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

More than 14 million people in the U.S. are currently out of work. Economists say it will years before most Americans who want a job can find one. In terms of the labor market and the unemployment rate, St. Louis, Missouri, looks much like the nation as a whole.

And over the next year here on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, we'll be following six people who live in the greater St. Louis area. All are unemployed, and all are searching for work.

Today, NPR's Tamara Keith takes us to St. Louis, and begins our yearlong portrait of the unemployed.

TAMARA KEITH: Until March, Casaundra Bronner worked for one of the largest employers in St. Louis - certainly, the most famous - Anheuser-Busch. Bronner had been there 11 years, working her way up to a marketing manager job.

Ms. CASAUNDRA BRONNER: My last position, I really enjoyed it. And it was kind of a - like a rug taken from under me.

KEITH: Bronner was among hundreds the company laid off. She never thought it would take this long to find work. And the search is clearly wearing on her, both financially and emotionally. Bronner is 39, a single mother with two daughters in elementary school.

Ms. BRONNER: It's difficult because I'm what they have. You know, it's - well, you bought us that stuff before; how come we can't do it now?

KEITH: For Bronner and the five others we'll follow over the coming year, there is one, central goal.

Unidentified Man #1: I just - I just want to work.

Ms. BRONNER: I'll do what I have to do.

Unidentified Woman: Right now, I will take any job.

Unidentified Man #2: We will do what it takes. It's just - I can't find that place yet.

Ms. JENNIFER BARFIELD: I will take it just to get work.

KEITH: That last voice was Jennifer Barfield. She's an IT professional, and was laid off from her longtime job at a law firm back in March of 2009.

Ms. BARFIELD: It's hard to not be depressed. I don't know who couldn't be depressed if they were going through this.

KEITH: Barfield is 47 years old, and a newlywed.

Mr. BRIAN BARFIELD: My name is Brian Barfield. I've had my share of down, down, down - bad times. But having met Jen, it's starting to come around and look up, and it'll be fine.

KEITH: They met at the Go Network, a group for unemployed people in St. Louis. Then, last January, Brian proposed spontaneously.

Mr. BARFIELD: We were having dinner downtown and the lights were low, and she looked beautiful sitting there. And I just knew I was ready. And so I said, will you marry me?

KEITH: Now, they're in this together. Brian is 53, and spent his career in manufacturing. He worked for Chrysler and one of its suppliers until the carmaker shut down its operations in the St. Louis area. For most of the last year, he had another job, managing a warehouse. Then in October, right after a honeymoon spent at home to save money, he lost that job, too.

Ms. BARFIELD: Really, if just one of us could get a job, we could live a decent life until the other did. It's really frustrating to me that both of us don't have it.

KEITH: At this point, they're getting by on unemployment benefits and money pulled from Jennifer's 401(k). But her benefits will run out soon.

The clock is ticking on Randy Howland's benefits, too.

Mr. RANDY HOWLAND: This is my calendar. You can see I probably have two interviews a week, and maybe two others that are phone interviews or follow-ups -phone calls - and then I do networking.

KEITH: Howland is 50 years old, and has been out of work for more than a year.

Mr. HOWLAND: Yes, I'm one of those people that's been on unemployment for a long, long time.

KEITH: In that time, he's applied for more than 600 jobs - 600. He's quite tech savvy, and programmed his computer to fill in most of the blanks on the applications for him. The jobs are mostly in customer service and sales, offering low wages. Howland has a master's degree in telecommunications and peaked at a six-figure salary, back in 2002. The problem is the telecom industry, as he knew it, doesn't exist anymore.

Mr. HOWLAND: I've had people look at my resume that said, hey, no, no, no, you've got to remove that; that's technology from the, you know, '20s or something. It makes me look out of touch.

(Soundbite of baby) Ms. ANNICA TROTTER: Hi, big boy, hi. What are you doing?

KEITH: Annica Trotter is talking to her infant son, Gregory. He's smiley and alert. Trotter lost her job in October, shortly after her son was born. She had been working for a social services agency, helping people with disabilities find jobs. Now, she's applying those skills to her own job search, networking and checking with friends and family.

Ms. TROTTER: But right now, it just doesn't seem like there's anything available.

KEITH: Trotter is 25,�has two children and the kind of drive you wouldn't want to bet against. In addition to her job search, she's starting a baking business.

Ms. TROTTER: Cakes and cupcakes are the main things - muffins, quiches, pot pies, poundcakes.

KEITH: She's calling it the Bright Oven.

Ms. TROTTER: Instead of just waiting for someone to decide that they wanted to be my boss, I could kind of start to be my own boss. And I think that once I get a job, I know that I'll be able to do both.

KEITH: She's sure she'll land a new job in three months or less. That's what 54-year-old Ray Meyer thought, too. But he's been searching for work for more than two years - so long that he's run out of unemployment benefits.

Mr. RAY MEYER: I've done some small jobs for neighbors and some friends - as far as landscaping and painting and some physical labor kind of things, you know -to make ends meet.

KEITH: This after a 30-year career in banking. In his last job, Meyer was a regional manager. But then like so many small banks, the one he was working for ran into financial trouble. Since then, he's been on 25 job interviews, but none of them panned out. Still, he says, every time it felt so good to put on his banker's clothes again.

Mr. MEYER: When I had my shiny, little shoes on, and I'm ready to go to - for an interview, I feel like I'm on the top of the world. I really do. Isn't it sad?

KEITH: His wife still has her job; she's a teacher. Meyer gets up early every morning to pack her lunch. He does most of the housework now, just to keep himself busy between submitting resumes and following up on leads.

Mr. MEYER: It wears on you - it really does.

KEITH: We'll hear more from Ray, Brian, Jennifer, Randy, Casaundra and Annica in the weeks and months to come, as they search for jobs and hopefully, find them.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

BLOCK: Sources for this project were identified with help from the�Public Insight Network of American Public Media,�the Nine Network of Public Media, the�St. Louis Beacon, and�St. Louis Public Radio.

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