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Unemployed and on the Verge of Losing Everything: "I Don't Know How I'll Make It"

Luz Guerra has already lost her job. Now she might lose her car, her home and her health insurance.

It's summer and finally warm without being too hot. U.S. troops have withdrawn from Iraq. The kids are sleeping. It's the perfect time to just relax and enjoy the sunny weekends. Unless, of course, one is a part of the 50 percent of working Americans who said they are too "stressed" about losing their jobs to relax. The Bureau of Labor Statistics just released their report that 467,000 people lost their jobs in June. Those jobs came from every major industry sector, with the largest declines occurring in "manufacturing, professional and business services, and construction.”

The closer one looks at the numbers, the worse they look. In June 2007, the official U.S. unemployment rate was 4.5%. The just-released official unemployment rate for June 2009, is 9.5%, for blacks it's 14.7 percent, for Hispanics, 12.2 percent. When that number is adjusted to include those who have given up looking for work and the underemployed -- those people who can only find a part-time job and other "marginally-attached" workers, the actual unemployment rate is 16.5%, pretty high numbers for a country that has spent an additional $14.5 billion (of the $787 billion dedicated since Obama's election) to putting people "back to work.” Additionally, the amount of people out of work for over four months has grown significantly. People who are being laid off are being laid off permanently, not temporarily "let go” until the situation improves.

And yet it seems required business news orthodoxy to say that if the recession hasn't ended already, it's about to. "The economy is near the end of its contraction,” the economists reassures us. The economy has got to turn around soon, MSN Money writes. It's just "got to.” It's faith-based economics. The Economic Cycle Research Institute, a New York-based independent forecasting group, predicts that the U.S. recession will end sometime during this summer. And on June 20th, just two weeks before the Bureau of Labor Statistics report, CNN posted an article asking if the recession isn't already over. Did it end this spring? They want to know. If it did, someone forgot to tell the 14.7 unemployed Americans. This is seeming more and more like a "jobless recovery” -- one in which the stock markets and the large corporations "recover” but people don't.

In response, AlterNet is profiling unemployed Americans from across the country, all who have been out of work for over six months. Their experiences of unemployment are as varied as the jobs they left, from non-profit consulting and food service to teaching and high finance, but they raise similar hard questions about how dependent we are on an unstable economy, who is and isn't disposable, and who catches us when we fall.

When Luz Guerra had to leave her last job because she needed to care for her ailing mother, she always assumed she could find other work. After all, she'd been supporting herself since she was 16 and had over 30 years experience as an organizer and adult educator. She has designed curriculum and conducted trainings on U.S.-Central America issues, multicultural awareness, and popular economics for women. Luz wrote a report on technical assistance and people of color organizations, and as a consultant provided technical assistance and capacity building for a wide range of organizations.

Now, at 52 , Luz finds herself out of work and unable to find any job that will cover her expenses. When her mother died in 2008, she applied for every nonprofit job that she was qualified for. But there very few openings and some months no openings at all. So Luz began to apply for office manager jobs, receptionist jobs, sales clerk jobs anything that would help her pay the mortgage on her small house she'd bought several years ago. To keep going, Luz started working cleaning a couple of times a week -- for $60 a week. But it was difficult, especially because she has chronic back pain, and the pay barely covers her food expenses. She has picked up a temporary part time nonprofit consulting job but it ends in a couple of months. "The competition for any even underpaid job is fierce right now in Austin,” Luz says. The official unemployment in Austin, Texas, where Luz lives, is 6.5 percent. That's for people who have been out of work for three months or longer. Luz has now been unemployed for over a year.

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