She is now back with Experience Works, the nonprofit training and placement organization, which thus far has been unable to find her a private-sector job. “I’ve been stuck in here,” she says, but gladly so. “I still need to work because of medications,” says Ms. Humphrey, who has cancer, diabetes and arthritis.

These are people, as the saying goes, who worked hard all their lives, played by the rules, one assumes, and …

Ms. Bennett, the laid-off machinist, had worked steadily since she entered a dress factory at the age of 17, taking time off only for the births of her seven children and a quintuple-bypass surgery in 1995. After a divorce, she worked two jobs, assembling coffee pots in the day and working at truck stops or tending bar at night. When one factory or shop or restaurant closed, she would look for another with a help-wanted sign posted in the window.

In her mid 70s, she left the truck stop hoping to retire, but found that she couldn’t afford to. She applied at a machine shop in central Pennsylvania. Although she had never been a machinist, she got the job, and began making parts for door hinges, trucks, cranes and guns for $9 an hour. “I’m an easy person to teach,” she says.


Ms. Bennett and a few dozen others were laid off last March. She applied at restaurants, stores and the local mall, which needed a cleaning person. She had two interviews. They seemed to go well, but she never heard back. “I thought I had a good chance, but a lot of places want to hire younger people,” she says.

Man. But Ansberry, whose work on the elderly and other subjects has graced the Journal’s pages for many years, isn’t done yet. We still haven’t even gotten to Mary Appleby and her 13-year-old dog:

Ms. Appleby, of Akron, is still without a job. For 18 years, she had worked at a small snack shop in the basement of the Summit County Courthouse. She cooked, cleaned tables and served. As her knees got weak and she relied increasingly on a cane, she was stationed at the cash register.


She earned only minimum wage, but it helped supplement her $723-a-month Social Security check, and was enough to make her house payments. Five years ago, she tore down her childhood home, which needed too many costly repairs, and built a small white bungalow in its place. Ms. Appleby, who never married and has outlived most of her relatives, other than a few far-flung cousins, took out a loan — a move she now regrets.


Uh, oh, this might turn out to be one of CNBC’s “losers.”

Last year, sales at the snack shop, called Buddy’s Place, fell as more office workers began packing lunches and governments trimmed staff, resulting in fewer people stopping for coffee and soup. The owner, Aaron Hopkins, who is 36 and blind, watched labor costs balloon to 29% of sales. That put him in danger of losing his own business. Under a state program for the visually impaired that got him the snack-shop job, he had to keep labor costs down to no more than 20% of sales. Mr. Hopkins, who earned $22,000 last year, reluctantly laid off Ms. Appleby.

Her mobility and age limit her options. She doesn’t have a résumé. A local law firm organized a benefit to help her get through the winter and pay mortgage bills. “It is our way, as courthouse family, to try to do something to help her get back on her feet,” says Jonathan Sinn, an Akron attorney. Given her age and health, Mr. Sinn doubts she will be able to get another job in the court.

I pause here to add emphasis:

She is considering knee surgery, which may make her more mobile, and thus more marketable. She is applying for unemployment.

Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014).

Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.