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Tales from the unemployment trenches

June 21, 2008|Marc Lifsher


Over 50, in a jam that's 'hopeless and desolate'

Debbie Smith is a victim of California's real estate meltdown.

In September, she lost her job as an office manager and marketing assistant for a chain of magazines that showcased available homes and acreage.

Smith, 54, of Port Hueneme, hit all the online job sites hard but came up with nothing but responses from "bogus recruiters" seeking her personal information.

Money got tight. Smith lost her home to foreclosure and moved into a rental with her son. After her unemployment benefits ran out, Smith began selling her belongings on the Internet and baby-sat her grandchildren for $20 a day.

"To me, it's hopeless and desolate," she said. "Anybody over 50 is going to struggle for a long time and end up working at Mickey D's."



A journeyman's lament: No building, no hiring

Mark Fraser made good money for most of the last eight years as a union journeyman electrician in El Cajon in San Diego County.

But his regular paychecks stopped coming in January after he got laid off by a major electrical contractor. Instead of getting steady work pulling wire at big construction projects at community colleges and water treatment plants, Fraser, 45, spends his time diligently checking for scarce new job postings at the local union hall. It's taken him months to move up from No. 120 to No. 36 on a hiring waiting list.

"It's just the economy. People are not wanting to build. Either they can't get the financing or it's not economically feasible," he said. "They just aren't asking the contractors to do the work."



Breaking under the strain of a staggering economy

Dean Ambrosini made about around $50,000 a year in the wholesale mortgage business, a pretty good salary for a "high school graduate with solid experience in the finance area," he said.

But in July 2007, the Texas company he worked for went out of business and shuttered his San Diego office. Ambrosini's unemployment benefits ran out in February; he hasn't been able to find anything close to a comparable position.

"There are no jobs. I'm out there competing with a lot of people who don't look as overqualfied as me," said Ambrosini, 44. He has applied for public assistance and is seeking a state grant to train as a legal assistant.

"I think the economy is going to break a lot of people," he said. "It's definitely breaking me."


-- Marc Lifsher

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