Now that it’s certain that our leaders have gone all in on austerity, despite a 9.2 percent unemployment rate and an economy that looks like it’s sliding back into recession, it’s time for the press to redouble its focus on the unemployed, and particularly the long-term jobless. Actually, it was already long past time for that. Now it’s really time for it.
Alexandra Jarrin lost her solidly middle-class job in March 2008, shortly after the recession began, and hasn’t found work since. Her unemployment benefits ran out in March 2010 and she’s since lived off food stamps and the beneficence of friends and strangers and the state of Vermont, where she moved to take advantage of its universal health care program.
Her story has been told in The New York Times (twice), on CNN, in the Huffington Post (at least three times), and now in the Brattleboro (Vermont) Reformer. My first reaction was to wonder why this one woman has gotten so much media attention when there are millions of others like her out there. My second is that somebody ought to hire her to do PR. She’s apparently very good at it.
I’m glad she is. It’s useful to trace the story of one person struggling through the recession. Our habit as journalists is to do one-and-done stories on people like Jarrin, reporting their struggles as a snapshot in time that we don’t follow up on. That’s especially unfortunate on long-term stories like the terrible economy, which officially went into recession three and half years ago and has added few jobs in the two years since the recovery began. There are four or five unemployed people for every job opening. Meantime, it would cost about $30 billion annually to put a million people to work cleaning parks, painting roofs, or tutoring kids at $30,000 a year.
The particularly insidious thing about long-term unemployment is that the longer you’re out of work, the harder it is to get a job. Employers are overtly discriminating against the unemployed in hiring decisions, forcing states to pass laws against it, as the Times reported last week. The median duration of unemployment in this recession is an all-time high of nine months, meaning such discrimination “disqualifies millions.”
All this means that barring a roaring recovery—and is there anybody out there who sees that in the next five years?—these folks may never again find work that fully uses their abilities, if they find work at all. So tell us their stories, and keep us updated periodically on them.
That’s what the NYT CNN, NPR, the HuffPost, and now the Brattleboro Reformer have effectively done, however accidentally. Let’s retrace her story in the press.
We first met Jarrin in November 2009 in the Times in a story on whether Congress would extend unemployment benefits. Jarrin was the anecdote on 99ers—people who were about to exhaust their extended unemployment benefits:
Alexandra Jarrin, 48, was laid off in March 2008 from her job in New York as a director of client services. As she searched widely for a job, moving back and forth between New York and Tennessee, she received aid of more than $400 a week that, she said, just barely ”kept my head at the waterline.”
But her extensions ran out early last month and in subsequent weeks, as Congress deliberated, her life fell apart. She has just started receiving what will be 14 extra weeks of aid under the new law, but faces eviction from her apartment in Brentwood, Tenn. ”There’s no way I can recover now, I’m too far behind,” she said.
In August 2010, the Times profiled Jarrin on page one. By then, her unemployment benefits had run out five months earlier, and she had moved back to Vermont, for the health care and the better job market and because that’s where she “had spent most of her adult life.” She was now living in a motel:
“Barring a miracle, I’m going to be in my car,” she said…
She has applied for everything from minimum-wage jobs to director positions.
To make things even more miserable, we find out Jarrin has $92,000 in student loans for an education she’s found is now “basically worthless.” Student loans, unlike other forms of debt, can’t be discharged in bankruptcy.
Four months later, Jarrin turned up on NPR’s “All Things Considered” in a package on the long-term unemployed, where we find out she went without food for a while before food stamps kicked in.
I just started to apply for entry-level positions, service positions, every fast food. I’ve applied everywhere.