Behind the latest unemployment figures showing another 500,000-plus Americans lost their jobs is a sad truth: The deeper the recession becomes, the more it touches people whose livelihoods have never been threatened by dark financial times.
Now the employment line includes workers who’ve never lost a job before and always believed experience and hard work would protect them.
Many of them are shocked and depressed — or stuck in denial. And they must confront the worst job market since the end of World War II.
Some say they will take any kind of work, no matter what it pays or where it is. Others hope they can somehow squeak by on unemployment insurance. A despairing, middle-aged man in Pennsylvania toyed with the idea of killing himself in a way that would allow his wife and daughter to collect on his life insurance policy.
In interviews across the country, the newly jobless contemplated their futures in these uncertain times.
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Julie Banner had parted ways with Avnet Electronics several times over the last two decades — always for a new experience or a better opportunity. But one December morning, after she had just printed a stack of orders at the North Carolina distributor of computer components, the tables turned for the first time in her working life.
Do you have a minute? asked her manager.
After all those years of coming and going on her own terms, Banner walked into an office and listened to a disembodied voice carried by speaker phone from regional headquarters. She was being let go, the personnel representative told her. Banner knew times were hard. Four others had been laid off in September. The 42-year-old saleswoman believed she might be spared.
“I was just hoping that I wasn’t going to be one of the people affected,” she said, bracing herself against a bitter wind outside a state unemployment office in Cary, a Raleigh suburb. Earlier this week, in her first foray into the world of joblessness, she arrived to find that a rush of unemployment applicants had crashed the state’s computer system.
“It was a very interesting morning,” she said. She came back a few days later for a training course on how to find jobs in the weak economy. It takes two paychecks to keep her daughter in preschool and pay the family’s mortgage. And her husband works in the same industry that she did.
“I’m still in the crying stage,” she said. “My sense of security is gone.”
Josh Tanner studied for years, and worked for years, chasing his dream. He thought he was well on his way to managing a golf course, where he would be outdoors in fine weather, the place he liked best.
On Tuesday, the dream evaporated. He was let go as a groundskeeping supervisor at a Las Vegas golf course catering to tourists.
When he first got the news in December, he did not call his wife. He called his brother-in-law for advice on how to tell a woman just two months from delivering their third child that they were losing their health insurance and their only income.
“I didn’t know where to start, or how to go,” Tanner said. “He told me to be honest. He said try to be upbeat and positive about trying to find a job. She doesn’t need the stress.”
So the 27-year-old told his wife, KayCee, that there was still hope.
But in these perilous times, how many can afford to play golf?
With no savings, KayCee persuaded him they needed to ask for help. Their church donated two week’s worth of groceries and diapers. His family, his friends and his former boss are helping him look for work.
He spent years studying golf course management in college and moved to Las Vegas nearly four years ago.
Asking for help does not come easy. “I’m kind of prideful in that way,” he said.
When his 3-year-old son, Daxton, offered help, it nearly broke his heart.
Daxton wanted a toy. Tanner had to say no. Toys cost money. Dad doesn’t have money for toys.
A few minutes later, the toddler found some coins on the ground and handed them up to his father.
“I’m depressed,” Tanner said. “I try and stay positive around my wife and stay upbeat and smile. But it’s hard to put a smile on these days.”
He now faces paying $900 a month for health insurance, and he’s not sure how he’ll do it. Maybe he can find part-time work. Maybe between unemployment payments, and family help, he can squeak by as his wife waits to give birth and watches over Daxton and his 18-month-old brother, Gavin.
“Someway, somehow we’re going to pay it,” he said.
Martin Feves lost his job just after Thanksgiving. The Portland, Ore., metal purchaser had already shelled out $150 for tickets to AC/DC, the head-banging 1980s Australian band with a legion of middle-aged fans.
Feves proudly counts himself a true follower. So he drove three hours to the show outside Seattle with his 14-year-old son.
Even that didn’t help.
“AC/DC was fantastic,” he raved. “But I was just sitting there worrying.”
For nearly 30 years, he maneuvered through multiple downturns in the high-tech and aerospace industries, including working for airline manufacturer Boeing.
His luck ran out Nov. 30, when he and 19 others were let go from Davis Tool, where he worked as a buyer of airplane materials. He lost a job paying $60,000 a year. His wife, who is on disability and suffers from bipolar disorder, said her monthly medication costs as much as $1,000.
They survived December on his unemployment check, her disability payments and their savings account.
The 49-year-old Feves will consider anything to get another job — work for less, change careers, sell his house or move to another state. He sits at a table outside an Oregon unemployment office, where a line of some 20 people waits inside to fill out forms and file claims.
Losing his job for the first time in his life, and through no fault of his own, leaves Feves feeling much the same as he did when his mother died in 1981.
“You know, in my mind, both times it was like, ‘Crap. Now what?'” he said. “It sucks.”
But this loss carries embarrassment. So much, he said, that hasn’t yet told his friends. Most make good money.
Feves and his wife no longer eat at restaurants. They rent movies that cost no more than $1. And they hope for better days.
“There’s not much we can do now,” he said. “I’m looking and waiting.”
Steve Pashko had always made a good living. He had always been a good provider for his wife and twin daughters.
Now the feels like a failure — as a husband and a father.
“You start to feel desperate. Every time you hear a report that more people are getting laid off, you think, ‘That’s just more people you have to compete with,'” said the 51-year-old from Abington, Pa.
Now his wife — a physical therapist — provides the family’s sole support.
Pashko blames himself. He spent his entire career as a purchasing manager. But as the economy began to falter last year, he took a job in sales, thinking he was staying one step ahead of troubling times.
Pashko had no sales experience, and companies became increasingly reluctant to purchase the expensive business reports his company sold.
“It was trying to sell something that cost $50,000 at a time when the economy was starting to fail,” Pashko said.
To make matters worse, Pashko became seriously ill and ended up in the hospital, causing him to miss a crucial training session.
So when his boss called him into the office in August to hand him a pink slip, Pashko wasn’t totally surprised. But that didn’t make it any easier. Except for a brief period of unemployment back in 1992, he had never found himself in this place.
He has posted his resume online and applied for dozens of jobs. No one called back. As the weeks dragged on, he briefly considered suicide, wondering how he could make it look like an accident so his family could collect his life insurance policy.
“I felt totally useless. I was in a huge depression over that, feeling like I can’t support my family,” Pashko said. “You just feel it’s never going to change.”
Then he snapped out of it. He had 15-year-old daughters to think of. “Your mind starts to wander,” Pashko said. “Would I ever do anything like that? No.”
The holidays were rough. He shopped for Hanukkah presents at a discount store that used the slogan “Everything $1 to $5.”
He said to his girls, “We’re gonna celebrate the holidays at another time, hopefully after I get a job.”
The new year has brought new hope. Pashko has been offered a six-month temp job.
Credit: Deborah Hastings
Source: USA TODAY