Worked yesterday, unemployed today

Unemployed in Arkansas, jobless, unemployment extensions, employmentImagine it. A year ago, things couldn't look brighter. After years of managing a chain pizza restaurant, an ill family member’s needs demanded a relocation to a much smaller city with fewer opportunities for her. But, not for long. A new store was in the works, and the owners recognized her growth-focused business savvy and offered her the job of managing their pizza store in a new, prime location.

The young, inexperienced owners set her free to set up and run the business the best she knew how, and it worked. Of all the stores the young owners had, hers was the only one posting consistent and growing profits. She was customer – and detail – oriented, and it paid off many times over.

Then, bright and early Sunday morning, the owner followed her into the store and told her, “You are our best, you do the best job and you have the best store, in fact yours is the only store we own making money, but because you don’t hang out with us, you’re fired.”

Just like that. Monday morning, she’s in the unemployment office, holding little hope that she will be found eligible. She was in shock. She was lost. She had no choice.

Two years ago, manufacturing came to a halt when production was moved to Mexico. Hundreds of jobs lost in a small area with little else to offer seasoned factory workers. For some, it meant moving on to other, more industrialized areas. For others not quite established, it meant selling houses and financed cars in an effort to maintain a steady, safe environment for their children and family. Some took advantage of retraining programs, though it was a struggle to keep up with coursework while keeping house, a second job and raising kids. One man now in his last semester is holding onto the hope that the part time position he created as part of his studies will someday turn into full time with benefits.

For her, the past is fragmented, scattered and scarred. Everything is black and white and confusing since neither feels right to her. Though she pedals a bike to get around, her hair is always done up, her teeth brushed and her clothes unclean but unstained, she continues to work toward her goals of finding a full time job. No phone, no money, no unemployment to be had, she calls an old, abandoned country house her home. She is homeless, but she found a way to get a CDL license, which should be finalized within the month. “All I want to do is work. I’m a good worker. I want to work,” is her mantra.

Year after year, it has been the same. Spring comes, the rice is planted, tended, then harvested and sold. The big operation spans miles and employs families from generation to generation. This year, fields laid dormant, industrial tractors parked and only a few of the workers left to plant, tend and harvest. The huge operation is so stunted that, this time, employees won’t be able to draw unemployment through the winter to tide them over until planting begins again next year. Frustrated, angry, one of the workers has no idea how he’ll pay his mortgage, electric, and gas bills and buy food for his family of five on a little over $100 a week. He had no idea it would get this bad and wonders how worse it will get.

A comment left on a blog post announcing the end of unemployment extensions for the fourth time this year, a woman said, “Went to file today for an extension and of course was told denied until congress votes for the extension. I have five children to feed, my other half just lost his job last week, and now have absolutely no income.” What will she do? What can she do?

The job listings scroll endlessly on the big screen, the same 30 looping continuously. Weekend housekeeper, pays $7.25 an hour. CDL driver, pays $8.00 an hour. Machine operator wanted, pays $8.50 an hour depending on experience. Certified nursing assistant needed, pays $7.75 an hour. All eyes watch the screen, pens scratching job numbers in the margins of unemployment handbooks hoping that at least one will net a referral and maybe even an interview. After awhile, eyes glaze and pens become still when the same jobs appear, none looking any better the third and fourth time around than they did the first. For miles in all directions, this is all there is. Just 30 jobs.

Put a face to the numbers. These are neighbors, friends, family, everyone. Working today, we may be jobless tomorrow. What would you do? What could you do?
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