Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Waiting for work

Although some signs suggest the recession may be waning, for many families, the hard reality is that it seems only to be deepening.

Rick Rose came so close to getting a job. Bobbie and Juan Wilson are still struggling to meet their household expenses.

Although some signs suggest the recession may be waning, for many families, the hard reality is that it seems only to be deepening.

Rose, who lives in the District, and the Wilsons, a married couple in Maryland, are participating in this year's Color of Money Challenge. I am focusing specifically on families affected by job loss. Our Challengers have agreed to allow me into their lives to chronicle their search for employment and their struggles to regain their financial footing. They represent what is happening to millions of Americans across the nation.

Rose and the Wilsons know all too well the awful side of this recession -- they have joined the long-term unemployed. That group (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) increased by 268,000 in May, to 3.9 million, and has tripled since the start of the recession.

The number of all unemployed people increased by 787,000, to 14.5 million, in May, according to the Labor Department. Although layoffs are slowing, the unemployment rate continues to rise, increasing last month to 9.4 percent from 8.9 percent.

Among the unemployed, the total number of those who lost their jobs or finished temporary jobs rose 732,000 in May, to 9.5 million. This group has grown by 5.8 million since the recession began.

Bobbie and Juan Wilson can be counted among those on the temporary-job treadmill. Unable to find permanent employment, they have moved from one short-term opportunity to the next.

Juan was working part time with UPS until he was let go in mid-March. He still hasn't been able to find steady employment despite submitting many applications. He's been called back on a few interviews but still nothing -- not even a temp position. And because the couple can no longer afford day care, Juan stays home to watch their 3-year-old daughter, Neylah, making it difficult for him to go out on interviews during normal working hours.

Bobbie landed a part-time job with the National Guard as an administrative assistant, but the pay wasn't enough to cover the bills. She continued to look for full-time jobs but settled for a temporary position as a paralegal at a District law firm. The position pays about $31.25 per hour. The problem is the job only lasts until October.

She's praying it will become permanent.

"I am a bit more optimistic," Bobbie said. "But I'm still stressed because although I have a job, it's not stable. Every day it's like, 'Will they keep me? Will they keep me?' " The Wilsons tried to stay on top of their mortgage payments but found it impossible. For the past several months, they've been requesting a reprieve from making the monthly installments until they could both find steady work. Bobbie said various mortgage representatives told her they couldn't get help until they stopped making their payments. Their last, of $1,700, was in March.

"The mortgage company will probably do something now," Bobbie said.

Rose is still finding it tough to climb out of his financial hole. But he did get one bit of good news lately: His request for a reprieve from his monthly $971 mortgage payment was approved. He doesn't have to pay for four months - June until September. The mortgage company will also continue to pay property taxes during the forbearance period.

Desperate, Rose has tapped into a home-equity line of credit, borrowing $2,000 to pay for basic necessities. That money will be gone soon, too, if he doesn't find a job.

Rose has been unemployed for more than a year. Unlike many who have been laid off, he had saved enough to cover his expenses for a year. All that money is now gone. He also has exhausted his unemployment benefits, although he's applied for another extension. He got his last unemployment check on his birthday in May.

Rose was elated when he received a job offer as a communications specialist with a major government contractor based in Virginia. The salary was $80,000, just $5,000 less than what he made at his last job as director of communications for a nonprofit organization. However, the offer was contingent on Rose obtaining a federal interim security clearance and then a full security clearance.

Rose was denied the interim clearance. He doesn't know why. He says there's nothing in his background that would indicate a problem. To find out why he was denied, he has to submit a signed written request to the Defense Security Service's Office of Freedom of Information and Privacy, a spokesperson told me in an e-mail. That's just ridiculous. Given the job market, Rose shouldn't have to jump through such a hoop. What if the reason for the denial is something he could easily and quickly clear up had he been informed? Rose suspects it has something to do with the recent fraud alerts he placed on his credit reports after his wallet was stolen.

"It's been frustrating, to say the least," Rose said. "If I was denied an interim clearance because of a fraud alert I put on my own account, there's something wrong with how they process these kinds of things. It's a strange twist, regardless, one I wish I hadn't come across."

The contractor didn't wait. The company offered the position to another candidate.

Rose is back to looking for a job.

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her e-mail address is Reader can also follow her on Twitter at: SingletaryM. Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.
(c) 2009, Washington Post Writers Group