The Truth About Long-Term Unemployment In America

Photo: Helen Hatat

Most people don’t understand how someone could fail to find a job for over a year unless he was lazy or somehow defective.This stigma means that finding a job becomes harder every day that a person has been unemployed.

Nearly four million Americans have been unemployed for over a year. Millions more are not counted because they have given up looking for work, have opted for retirement, or have taken a part-time job.

We interviewed some of the long-term unemployed to see what they’ve been doing for the past year. Every one of them is just as shocked as you that unemployment could last this long.

Pamela Vernocchi has been unemployed since September, 2008

Noel Pineda has been unemployed since 2009

When Pineda's company decided to let go of 600 of its employees in the IT department, Pineda was included in that group. The single dad of two moved back to his hometown in Lake Tahoe between California and Nevada and found a job at a ski resort.

A year later, he was laid off again and has been unemployed ever since. Pineda, 42, has been on a couple of interviews, but most tell him he's overqualified for the available positions.

'I always found it easy to find jobs, but about three months after you're laid off, the pressure starts to build.'

When his unemployment money ran out, Pineda had to apply for food stamps and says getting assistance from the government has really affected his self-confidence.

'Sometimes after making sure the kids are off to school I find myself pacing back and forth feeling lost. Feeling disoriented. It's frustrating,' he said. 'I stress more easily and I'm finding it more difficult to reason with my thoughts. My motivation is more relying on false hope that the next email or Google voice that I get is from a potential employer.'

Pineda hasn't had cable in more than two years, which he says 'isn't that bad' and he's downgraded from an iPhone to a $19 prepaid phone. He says he walks as much as he can and tries to only use a tank of gas every month. This past Christmas, Pineda was able to make some money off his coupon site to buy his kids Christmas presents.

But Pineda is optimistic and hopes the economy will eventually get better. With job prospects limited, he told us he is currently trying to create a business for himself.

John Schmidt has been unemployed since April, 2009

Veronica Orozco has been unemployed since June, 2007

Nearly five years gao, Orozco was working as a full-time civil engineer in Chicago when she had to go to the emergency room to get her gallbladder removed.

When she returned to work two weeks later, her employers told her business was slow and that they didn't have any projects for her at the moment.

They told her to call back in two weeks and when she did, she received the same answer. During this time, she was paid a stipend, but not a full paycheck and was having a difficult time paying her bills. This happened for six months before Orozco decided to apply for unemployment.

Orozco, 30, has two young daughters and a husband who's currently in school. She makes most the income in her family and needed to get back to work as quick as possible, so she sent out applications for any positions in any field, including Walmart postings. She quickly realised getting another job would be a lot more difficult than she thought.

'The problem is that people don't want to hire people who are unemployed. And it's definitely more who you know, not what you know,' Orozco said. 'I have to hope that eventually I'll be able to find work again.'

The family has had to cut out expenses such as cable or going to Whole Foods for their groceries. Orzoco is still actively applying for a job that will bring in a steady income and is planning on returning to school in the summer of 2012.

Judy Golden has been unemployed since 2008

Golden knows the only way she's going to get her finances back on track is to 'come up with some idea, some kind of business.'

The 60 year old lost her job as a recruiter for UTStarcom in 2008 and hasn't had much luck finding other steady income since.

When she lost her job, Golden, who lives in San Francisco, wasn't devastated because she didn't think it would last for a long time. Although it was hard the first year, a lot of other people she knew had also lost their jobs and the technology industry just wasn't hiring much. In the second year of unemployment, Golden realised that other people were getting rehired, but she wasn't one of them.

'It became very clear to me when they started hiring other people, but not me, that companies wanted to have young people work for them,' Golden, who has both a Master's and bachelors degrees, told us.

'I've lost a tremendous amount of confidence and that's what happens when nobody wants to hire you. I interviewed twice with Google and they will not hire people who are unemployed. You're put in an unwanted group.'

Since unemployment, Golden says she has acquired only two small jobs: Once when she received three months of work with the Census Bureau in 2010 and a seasonal job at Macy's for four weeks in December 2011.

'When I got hired by Macy's, I was actually shocked. It was a minimum-waged job, but I was so excited that someone said, 'I want to hire you.''

Golden says she's not depressed, but things have been tough. She has learned how to be careful with her money and admits that most of her savings is gone. Golden says she procrastinates on filing her taxes every year because she's 'ashamed' of her finances.

She stopped actively applying for jobs at the end of last year.

Helen Hatat has been unemployed since 2009

Hatat, a Frenchwoman who moved to the United States many years ago, has lost her husband, her job and her home.

'I have nobody to help me because I have no family left,' she said.

She lost her job in public relationships in 2009 after more than 20 years of working in the entertainment industry, the Southern California resident said.

'When you don't have a job, you don't find a job, and when you don't have a job, you don't find a home,' she said.

At first she tried moving into a homeless shelter, but left because they treated her 'like garbage.' Eventually she found a friend she could stay with, but this arrangement won't last forever.

'I've found you lose most of your friends, you know. If you have money people love you. If you don't have any money people hate you. They treat you like you are contagious.'

Hatat now rides her bicycle every day to the library to try and find a job. She also spends her days volunteering.

While she is open to anything at this point, she said there isn't much available. She sends out hundreds of applications but maybe gets five interviews for all of that effort. Hatat went so far as to ask a company to hire her for two weeks without pay and then hire her full-time after that time period if they liked her work.

But so far, that strategy hasn't helped.

'I have all the qualifications they are looking for so why don't they hire me?' she asked. 'I don't get it. I am very discouraged now. I'm very tired too.'

Drew from Southern California has been unemployed since 2007

Drew has a black mark on his resume: He used to work in the mortgage industry.

'Six months out I learned from an old boss there is an unspoken directive not to hire any of us. I can say with confidence I was blackballed for at least a year because I came from the mortgage industry.'

Drew quit his job at ACT Mortgage Capital five years ago because he was burned out. He thought his skills as a salesman would make it easy to find work in another industry, but it wasn't.

'I had five or six interviews in the first six months and I probably burned myself on a few by being too candid. One interviewer set me up. She asked what's really going on in the mortgage industry, and I said 'you're not going to use it against me, are you?''

When he told her, he realised it was a mistake.

As time went on, Drew faced a new problem.

'Once you've been unemployed for a year, they don't even care that you came from the mortgage industry. There's something wrong with you ... I'm no fan of President Obama, but he's telling the truth when he says people are being discriminated against because they're unemployed.'

When Drew ran out of money (remember, he quit his job and wasn't eligible for unemployment insurance) and his house went into foreclosure, he was forced to move in with his mother.

Now he wants to launch his career in a different direction. While unemployed, he developed a baby product that he says would be a hit if he could just get some investors. He has also started a political website and has 'tons of ideas in waiting.'

'There's got to be some company that needs someone who can take an idea and literally build it themselves from scratch model to profile. It's mind-boggling that people don't need someone like me.'

Drew is seeking a position in business/ project development, operations/ admin in San Diego CA, North San Diego County CA and South Orange County CA areas. Email him at [email protected] for more information.

Philip Dahlheimer has been unemployed since October, 2008

Unemployment came as a shock for Dahlheimer, the vice president of operations at a manufacturing company.

'It was one of those positions where you were very confident handling any problem and production was very strong and then the owner comes in and says 'In a month, we're going to shut the factory down.''

After working for the company for nearly 20 years, Dahlheimer suddenly found himself out of a job. Worse yet, he had to be the bearer of bad news for his fellow employees.

'So many employees that were utterly heartbroken,' he said.

However, Dahlheimer had something to fall back on. He and a friend had been developing a product on the side for years, an invention that removed odor from the toilet system in river rafts.

After losing his manufacturing position, Dahlheimer said he threw all of his energy into developing his company, Groover Labs Inc. But it wasn't easy and the bad economy that caused him to lose his former position also hurt his new business.

'I kind of realised that the economy was still slumping,' he said. 'I've not been able to sustain the lifestyle that I had.'

'It gets you to analyse, when you're in this position, what you truly need and what you want ... ' he said.

Business is starting to pick up, Dahlheimer said, but it still isn't to where it could have been before the Recession.

'There's projections that things will increase,' he said, adding that the increase is 'not as fast as I would hope.'

Nora Omar has been unemployed since March 31, 2010

Omar still struggles with the decision to apply for unemployment benefits.

'Society in general will always give you a look like you're on welfare, like you're taking something that doesn't really belong to you and you should be ashamed. Well guess what, this is money that I worked for.'

Even after she decided to apply, the process was a nightmare. It took Omar about six months to complete all of the necessary paperwork.

'They are experts into applying all the laws against us people who worked hard to set this money aside for when we need it, which is now. They are very tough and rough and they flex all of their muscles on us unemployed.'

Before her company folded, Omar worked as a software analyst in Denver, Colo. Despite the fact that she worked in the industry for 10 years, she finds that she's no longer qualified for any jobs in her sector.

'From day one, I noticed that the requirements changed, that they're looking for robots really.'

But she hasn't considered taking a lower paying job or one that requires fewer skills.

'To be very honest with you, I have a lot of experience and I am trying not to give up.'

She was so confident in her abilities when she first lost her job that she wouldn't consider using a temp agency to find a job.

'I thought that I have almost 15 years of experience, I can get good references, I'm a fast learner ... '

Pat Gartland was unemployed for over a year before starting his own business

After working at the home office of a retail company for 15 years, Gartland lost his job as an operations director in 2009.

'Well, it came as a surprise to me when it happened,' the Dallas resident said.

At first, Gartland said he was able to use unemployment to spend time with his two young children, who are now 14 and 6. But after a few days, the realisation that he didn't have a job set in and Gartland started applying for work.

But the process was much different than he remembered. When the now-43-year-old graduated from college, 'you basically got a newspaper and looked for job,' he said.

But now, it's all about networking.

'And they talk about branding yourself,' he said. Going through that whole process is a lot different.'

'I didn't work for a whole year,' he said.

For a while, he and his family scraped by, using his severance package and their savings. But eventually that money ran out and Gartland started a mad scramble to find another job.

'I was probably working as much as I would work a normal work week,' he said about the hours he spent applying for new positions. 'And I was surprised on how little feedback I got from any companies.'

After a disappointing year, Gartland said he decided to go into business for himself. However, he couldn't get the funding.

'Almost every day I'd have an appointment with a banker,' he said. 'They would just not lend anything to anybody.'

Ultimately, he and a former coworker decided to go into business together and the pair opened up a retail store with the franchise ColorTyme. The company specialised in working with people who have poor to no credit.

'The first store went pretty good,' Gartland said, adding that he and his partner are in the process of opening up a second location.

Despite his retail experience, Gartland said his current job is very different from his past.

'It's different work, you're more dealing with customers and employees than before.'

He went without employment for a year, but Gartland acknowledged that his situation could have been worse.

'I could only imagine if I didn't have any savings or 401K to fall back on,' he said.

Edwin Duterte has been unemployed since January, 2008

An up-and-coming commercial real estate lender in Southern California, Duterte averaged deals worth $10-15 million. Duterte had worked in the industry since 1987 for companies like Freddie Mac, Chinatrust Bank USA, and Wells Fargo. But he was in the first round of layoffs at the First Bank of Beverly Hills in January, 2008.

At first Duterte saw unemployment as a chance to work full-time on an online dating app he was developing. But after attending an economic forum that opened his eyes to the coming recession, Duterte realised it was a bad time to be fundraising. It was also a bad time to be looking for a banking job. He turned his attention instead to starting a non-profit networking site.

'If banking was going to be difficult for the next 3-to-4 years I had to reinvent myself.'

Duterte kept one eye open for banking jobs, but nothing opened up. The longer he was out of the industry the harder it was to return.

'People laid off in the first round of a recession are the last people to reenter the job market.'

'The first year was OK because I had saved 25 per cent of my income. Second year I put everything into storage and moved back to my parents, or I was sleeping on couches; a few days here a few days there, a mobile nomad. After the 99 weeks was over I started living off savings. After savings ran out, I started living on my 401K. Last 9 months I've been drawing down on my 401k taking $3,000 a month. It will be depleted in 2.5 more months.'

Duterte is almost out of money, but he's optimistic that his newest startup, a social media marketing firm, will take off as the economy improves.

'I could have gone to a bank and been a teller and moved up--that could have been a smart move, but I knew that commercial real estate would take many years to improve. At that point working a $10 an hour job waiting for the banking sector to improve sounded like a bad idea. The entrepreneur route is the way I wanted to go. If the economy would just stay the course then I'll be fine. If the economy turns then I'm fucked again and at that point people are going to say you should have taken that lower job as a teller.'

Here's one idea for finding a job

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