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Jobless in America: Stories from the Frontlines of the Economic Crisis

Some among America's millions of newly unemployed vent their frustrations -- and wonder what government can do to help.
 
 
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On January 27, at the end of a grim week of headlines announcing mass layoffs across the country, Nicholas von Hoffman posted a piece on the Nation website titled "Lost Your Job? Tell Your Story." By turns sad and scathing, frustrated and furious, the testimonials poured in -- what follows is only a sample. Inspired by this approach, AlterNet invites readers to send in their stories of how the recent decline in the economy has affected their lives. Email to: Crisis@alternet.org.

"I had just come back from attending the inauguration in Washington the day before I was told they were letting me go," a salesman named Robert Hinckley writes to The Nation . "My supervisor called me into his office and asked me if I believed in change. Before I could answer, he said he knew I did, since I was a big Obama supporter. Then he told me that the company thought I needed a change, since I didn't seem to be able to 'make my numbers' anymore."

In Maine there are skilled carpenters knocking on doors, asking for any kind of work, shoveling snow or stacking firewood. In Arizona Roger Barthelson, who has a PhD in biochemistry, says, "I am worried about losing my job, which pays about half of what the bottom-level salary is for someone with my experience--if I had a real job. Underemployment is bad enough. Now my little McJob may go away. Maybe I should retrain?"

Add that question to the one e-mailed to The Nation from "Anonymous" in Miami, who cries out, "Where are other people's stories? I have been looking online and, beyond this forum, they are nowhere to be found. Perhaps without an Internet connection, the worst stories will never be heard. Is that the reason for the silence?"

Every business day brings announcements of new layoffs at the big corporations. Layoffs in the small businesses, which comprise hundreds of thousands of jobs, do not get the publicity, but the consequences are the same--panic, worry, want and family disintegration. Animal shelters report that jobless people are bringing in the pets they no longer can afford to keep.

At the current accelerating rate of layoffs, we will be called on to deal with a catastrophe by the end of June. And at this time next year, the nation could be suffering 6, 7, even 8 million more Americans without jobs in a society singularly ill equipped to take on a disaster that many of the people in power thought could never happen.

Past recessions hit blue-collar workers and farmers the hardest and schooled them psychologically, if not financially, in alternating good times and bad. The white-collar wipeout is something new. We have no experience in handling the huge numbers of college-educated, technically trained unemployed.

Not only does unemployment ruin the lives of the people enduring it; it kick-starts home foreclosure rates and stimulates bankruptcies. The people who still have jobs, fearing that they could be next, stop spending money on cars, houses, clothes or anything else.

The past century of depressions, recessions, slumps, panics, dips, slowdowns, busted bubbles and crashes shows that jobs are the last thing to come back, that employment is the slowest to recover. Every job lost postpones the return of prosperity.

This is the moment for a tourniquet on the job hemorrhage. News of the millionaire class using public bailout money for their bonuses and private airplanes has left people feeling stranded and furious. They are demanding that something be done for them.

Washington should get money out to the states so they don't have to cut payrolls. As the bill stands now, it does that in part with education and health, but it ought to go further and make up the billions in deficits that at least forty-six states are looking at and save the thousands of state and local jobs that otherwise will soon be lost. California is already requiring state employees to take two unpaid days a month; before we can turn our attention to job creation, we need to stop the layoffs.

 
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