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Voices of the Long-Term Unemployed

There are about 5.7 million long-term jobless people in the U.S. They’ve been out of work for more than 27 months. Many of them live in Southern Nevada, one of the nation’s regions hardest hit by the Great Recession.

The impacts of long-term joblessness are myriad—from personal depression to family stress to homelessness. We talked with three Las Vegans struggling with being unemployed, perhaps, for the long haul.

“I Had To Sell Almost Everything In My House”

“I’m down to my wedding ring and some other beautiful jewelry I wanted to save for my daughter,” says Celeste, who used to work in real estate and made big money during Las Vegas’ boom times. “You’ve gotta kind of go with the flow and go day by day.”

Celeste, who refuses to apply for unemployment benefits from the government because she thinks it will change how others view her, says she’s sold most of her belongings and her prized sports car just to pay rent at her current apartment, which contains only a couple of pieces of furniture. Celeste, who asked we not use her last name, says she applies for 10-15 jobs every day and has revamped her resume 20 times. So far, she says, no one has bitten.

Celeste says she wishes she could return to school to get her degree, but times are very tough. “I’m literally going to start begging,” she says. “If I have to live in my car, it’s big enough.”

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Celeste has considered leaving Las Vegas for greener pastures in Dallas, but her 23-year-old daughter lives here, and her daughter must finish college, she says. “She’s all I have left,” Celeste says, choking back tears.

 “They Have No Clue What We’re Going Through”

Barbara Merchant was laid off from her job as a civil engineer in March 2009. She’s been searching for another full-time job ever since. To fill her time and make some extra cash, Merchant says she’s started working in direct sales, selling purses, and performing freelance engineering work.

Merchant says she’s one of the lucky ones—her husband still has a job. Nevertheless, she’s on unemployment. “I paid into it,” she says, adding that she was a “99 week-er” in the program.

“At first it was, like, I’ll have no trouble finding a job,” she says of how she felt after the layoffs. But then, she started interviewing. Reality set in.

“When people are walking out with their stuff in boxes, you realize they’re not going to have a spot for you,” she says of prospective employers. “They’re already laying people off.”

Merchant says she’s dealt with depression since losing her job, even taking medications to control her emotions. Sometimes, she says, there are days she cries all the way through.

She says one of the hardest things for her to hear or see in comment sections online is the idea that the long-term jobless are lazy. That simply isn’t true, she says.

“Until you’re really in the position to realize that there isn’t a job out there for you, you’re not going to understand it,” she says.

“There Is A Stigma”

Robert Petula is in a wheelchair and is disabled due to palsy and other medical complications. Before he moved to Las Vegas, he led a successful career in Illinois, where he installed computer labs in Chicago Public Schools.

“Originally, I had a job offer,” Petula says of why he moved to Las Vegas. “I bought a house, got everything all set. Then, sadly, the person that was going to hire me got fired.”

He says he thinks he’s often stigmatized because of his disability. “They’re looking for the fastest way to get someone into a job.”

“I’ve got resumes coming out the door,” he says. “I think we’re in that 99 percent of unemployable, especially the longer you are out of the loop” the harder it is to get looped back in.

Petula lives in a house that a relative back in Chicago helps him pay for. He can’t move into an apartment, he says, because no one is willing to retrofit apartments with the items he needs as a disabled person.

When asked why he won’t move back to Chicago, Petula says: “It’s too cold back in Chicago. I don’t think I could survive the cold.”

“Looking For Work Is A Full-Time Job”

Vince Miller, career connections manager at Goodwill of Southern Nevada, has some tips people like Celeste, Petula and Merchant can use.

Perhaps the best thing an unemployed person can do, Miller says, is learn new skills. Use your newly found downtime to learn a new craft or computer skills. Show that maybe, even if you haven’t been hired, that you’re certainly not just sitting around doing nothing. Employers will be more inclined to perk up.

Revamping the resume, and in particular, toning down experience to get entry-level jobs, is also key.

Although Miller says he’s never given someone the advice to leave Las Vegas, he understands that sentiment.

“I think my family would understand [leaving],” he says. “Me being homeless versus moving somewhere else to get a job.”

For more information about Goodwill’s career services go to

Robert Patula, unemployed computer engineer
Barbara Merchant, unemployed draftsman
Wednesday, December 21, 2011