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Hard Times Put the Squeeze on Dreams


OLYMPIA, Wash. — As a girl, Evalynn Kling imagined that life as a grown-up would be like playing June Cleaver in a never-ending episode of "Leave It to Beaver."

"I'll be married by age 25," she remembers dreaming. "I'll have started a family, I'll have a cat and a dog. I'll have a man taking care of me."

Fast forward to 1994, and turn off the TV.

Kling is 28 now. She has no husband, no kids, no pets, no house with a picket fence. Just a tiny apartment, a $7-an-hour secretarial job, and a pile of bills. Her job is temporary, but after months of unemployment, she's glad to be working at all.

"Life isn't the fairy tale we were taught to expect," she said. "It's a struggle to survive."

Like many Americans who have weathered tough times recently, Kling views reports of economic recovery with wary optimism. Yes, she's working. Yes, things are looking up. But although the bills are getting paid, anxiety remains.

Kling's troubles began in 1990, when she was an administrative assistant for the Weyerhaeuser Co. Hard times in the timber industry forced the shutdown of her division, which refurbished and sold used logging equipment.

Since then, she's had four short-term jobs, interspersed with seven months of unemployment in 1992 and three months in 1993.

Unemployment was something new for Kling, a high school graduate with one year of community-college secretarial training.

Well-spoken and well-mannered, a bright and attractive woman with long brunette curls, Kling is eminently employable, said Debra Dyjak, head of the temporary help agency Kling contacted in January.

"She's got some nice office skills. She's gone to school," Dyjak said. "She should have a job."

Kling agrees emphatically. Being jobless left her feeling embarrassed, rejected and depressed. Her whole body ached the first time she walked into the unemployment office.

She hit the job search hard, leaving resumes at 10 to 20 offices a week. When nothing came through, she turned to temporary office work.

The work has been steady--penny-pinching government agencies and businesses increasingly are turning to temps--but there's no security for Kling, and the pay varies. Anything less than $7 an hour won't pay the rent, but she takes it anyway.

"I'd still rather work," she said. "It makes me feel more useful working for less money than not working at all."

Months of unemployment have drained her savings, and she has no medical insurance. She drives a 1981 Honda Civic with 150,000 miles on it. She clips coupons for groceries. The kitchen counter in her one-bedroom apartment doubles as a table for her sewing machine, which she uses to sew her own clothes.

She once used a Visa card for emergency expenses--a flat tire here, a broken radiator there--but now, able to pay less than $50 a month toward the $1,200 balance, Kling has cut up her card and pays cash for everything.

She still allows herself dreams, but they're more modest now. She hopes to find a permanent job, one that would allow her to attend night classes and get a college degree.

"I want to get somewhere with my life," she said. "It's not going anywhere as long as I keep running into these dead-end jobs."

Kling remains confident that prosperity will come her way, sooner or later. But she also is sure that it will not come easily.

"Look at all the different things I've done for myself," she said, pointing to a resume spanning seven years and eight jobs.

"I'm no quitter. I'm a doer, and I'm going to keep on doing things until something happens for me."

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