Jobless in America | The Nation


Jobless in America

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Nicholas von Hoffman
Nicholas von Hoffman, a veteran newspaper, radio and TV reporter and columnist, is the author, most recently, of...
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'At least we are better off than a lot of people'


My husband had a promising career ahead of him when he began with Cleary Building Corp. (pre-engineered structures, such as barns and outbuildings) as a sales specialist three years ago. After his first year with the company he was ranked number two nationally in first-year sales. But then the economy started to change. In 2007 his sales plummeted, as did his base salary, from $335 per week to $250 per week. In 2008 his base salary dropped to a dismal $200 per week, to support a family of four. Less than minimum wage.

Finally, in October, he was let go. Cleary then tried to deny his unemployment and withheld his last paycheck. We had to solicit the assistance of our local Representative, Diana Fessler, to assure his unemployment. Cleary appealed the decision once his unemployment was granted.

The worst part of this layoff is that my husband carried our family's health insurance. With my two part-time jobs, I make just over the amount allowable to put my children on Medicaid. Luckily, Ohio has a plan that if you keep your children uninsured for six months, you may be eligible for a buy-in health plan through the state. But what about those six months? Do you want your children to be uninsured for six months?

On New Year's Day I went to a party with some old college friends. I discovered that one of them had been laid off from Miller-Valentine, where he had worked for more than twenty years. He was the sole support of his family of five. I think at least we are better off than them, than a lot of people. I still have a job.


Gail Ruhkamp

Laura, Ohio



'Class war has begun'


I have been laid off since September 5. I am an electrician with IBEW union membership. Although I work from a pool of workers on an "out of work" union list, we have seen no new calls for some time. Last fall, before I was laid off, there were few wind-farm jobs available. I am a 54-year-old woman, so I feel the outlook for a decent-paying job, or any job, is growing quite dim. I am collecting unemployment, and thank God for the extension allowed by the federal government. I do have a little in savings, but I fear the day may be nearing when I must use it for monthly payments. My husband is still employed, but this could change at any time, as no one seems safe. My worst fear is not that I will have to work for a lesser wage--it is getting into trouble with my mortgage.

Who knows where tomorrow may take us? We have been truly wronged by the greed of many, the lack of good stewardship of our government, the attempts of many to continue this damage. It all turns back to greed. Corporate America no longer represents American interests, as it is owned by outside interests and the hunger for big profits. This country was built on the people's strength to revolutionize against those who wrong us, and soon this may be necessary again. Class war has begun.


Sue Oelkers

Red Wing, Minn.



'My little McJob may go away'


After being laid off from a slowly dying biotech company at the end of 2001, I looked for a job for a year but had trouble even finding a reasonable job to apply for. My wife and I moved to Tucson in 2003, and I took the third postdoc of my career because that was what was available. I have now moved up to assistant research scientist, which is essentially super-postdoc. So far, very little grant money has come through for me, and my boss is getting squeezed, as our state government looks with glee at the idea of cutting back expenditures on all education.

Arizona is already number forty-nine in the fifty states for money spent on education. We're going for fifty. The idea of killing government and cutting taxes is still big in this largely Republican state, and Janet Napolitano, the one adult in state government to provide some moderate supervision, is gone. We're now stuck with an almost all-Republican government. As education funding gets cut, my co-workers and I get more and more nervous about losing our jobs. So, even though I'm 54, have a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania and twenty-five years of productive research and teaching experience in cell biology (including drug development), 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?


Roger Barthelson



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