Jack, from Kansas, put the last ten dollars to his name into the gas tank and, once again, drove to Labor Ready. Labor Ready is a temporary job employment agency that finds jobs for people. Some of those jobs pay daily. That is what he is hoping for. If he doesn’t get “one of those jobs,” he won’t have the money to come back the next day.
Mitch, from Oklahoma, gathers up the aluminum cans around his neighborhood and sells them for cash. It brings in just enough money to buy supper for his family of three. He watches his wife add at least twice as much oatmeal and bread crumbs to the hamburger meat he brought in. He walks into the living room so he doesn’t see her add a catsup to the meatloaf. She doesn’t use that in her meatloaf; they prefer steak sauce, but catsup is cheaper.
Peter, also from Oklahoma, sits at Jobs Services – waiting for his name to be called. His number is 43 and he arrived 20 minutes before they opened. Once it is his turn, he can talk to someone about all the resumes and applications he has sent out in the past several months. He sits and waits, watching the men and women leave with their heads held low. He understands there are few jobs out there and wishes he had gotten there sooner that morning.
This is happening all over the country to countless people. The unemployment rate is incredibly high and jobs aren’t available. “There are jobs available, if people want to work – if they are willing to work,” the man on the news says with a smile. He should try telling that to Jack, Mitch and Peter.
All three of these men have been looking for work. Jack has been unemployed for 100 weeks now. His unemployment ran out last week. Mitch and Peter have been unemployed for almost that long and their unemployment will run out shortly. Jack was a machinist. He has made airplanes at Boeing, LeerJet and Raytheon, as well as also sorts of other machine parts at other manufacturing companies. Mitch and Peter were also in manufacturing. All three of them were laid off because their jobs were sent overseas.
“My wife is disabled and can’t work,” Jack says in a telephone interview. “She’s quite creative and finds all sorts of things to sell, but now no one is buying. It was keeping us afloat, but that well has run dry.”
“I had an interview a few weeks ago at WalMart,” Mitch says. “By the time the background check came back, the position was no longer available. Folks I’ve talked to that works there have told me their hours have been cut.”
“My daughter brought me her piggy bank,” Peter explained. “She must have heard her mom and I talking about needing money. She’s growing so fast and her shoes are getting too small – doesn’t know that all the ‘paper money’ in her bank is gone.”
None of these men asked for this. Combined, they have over 70 years experience in manufacturing. Knowing that manufacturing is “feast or famine,” they have other skills as well. Jack is also a cabinet maker and has dabbled in sales. Mitch and Peter can work in the oilfields of Oklahoma. All three men can weld, work construction and flip burgers. None of them are above flipping burgers or wrapping burritos. Unfortunately, not even fast food is hiring.
“If I hear over-qualified one more time, I will scream,” Jack says. “They tell that when things pick up, I’ll go back to manufacturing and they will be out the money they spent to train me.”
“I’m told I’m too old to retrain,” Mitch says. “Of course, they don’t come out and say that because I could sue them for age discrimination. Not likely because I don’t have the gas money to get to a lawyer’s office.”
“Desperate isn’t a good look when looking for a job,” Peter explains. “They make it look like it is my fault I am not working.”
What is to become of these men? All three are willing and eager to work. They have been looking for work diligently, going far above and beyond the one contact per day that is required to receive unemployment benefits. They have spent much of their unemployment buying gas, driving back and forth to interviews that never pan out.
“We have one package of meat left in the freezer,” Jack says. “We can’t go back to the [local] food bank for another two months. I want to provide for my family. I’ve always provided for my family. Now what do I do?”
Yes. What will he do? What all the other unemployed and underemployed men and women do? What about their families? No one has any answers.