In Idaho, Two Workers Take Jobs, And Hope For Best
StateImpact Idaho's Molly Messick reports on two people coping with the lingering effects of an economic downturn.
Before the recession, Idaho had one of the fastest growing economies in the country. But last year, its jobless rate peaked at nearly 10 percent. That number has begun to creep downward – but many workers in the state are still struggling to replace the jobs they've lost.
One of those workers is Kelly Barker, a single mom in her mid-40s, who's quick to smile, but who is also clearly worried. Back in November, she had been out of work for months, and was nearing the end of her unemployment benefits.
"I really just simply need a job," she said. "I need to work. I want to work"
Barker chronicled what she'd been through. At first she was optimistic when she lost her job as an office administrator for a financial services company. Then came doubt, and fear.
"Two months into it, I'm like – wow! I can't even get an interview. I started to panic. Here I am, 46 years old, single mom, out of a job, house payment, all of these abilities, and no one wants me. I mean, that was my initial thought."
The months wore on, and her anxiety deepened, she says, "when I didn't have enough money for food. Like... [when] I started running low on basic things, I think, is when it really started to hit me."
By that point, Barker says, she and her 7-year-old daughter were getting by on a daily food allowance of under $5. Mindful of utility costs, Barker started timing her daughter's showers, and keeping the heat set at 66 degrees. She began looking for a roommate.
Then there's the situation of Nathan Bussey.
"I had only been engaged with my wife for about a month when I found out I was getting laid off," he says. "And so that was really the first thing that hit me, was just – I'm engaged, I'm going to get married, and now I have to try to find a job and make this work."
That was in 2008. Bussey had been with Hewlett-Packard just shy of a decade, and had landed a good job installing printing systems for Fortune 500 companies.
HP is one of the biggest employers in the Boise area, and one of the big names in Idaho's tech sector. Jobs there, and at companies like Micron Technology, fueled the state's growth before the recession hit. Now both companies account for some of Idaho's biggest job cuts in recent years. Bussey was one of the casualties.
"September 5th of 2008 was my last day at Hewlett-Packard," he says. "With that recession coming in, my last day was about the time we were finding out how bad things were really getting."
Within a few months, he decided to go back to school for his MBA. He finished a little more than a year ago, but still found a jobless job market. This fall, as his unemployment benefits finally ran out, Bussey's hope wore thin.
"I keep thinking that right around the corner is that next stage of life and it will start all over again," he says, "and we'll say, 'Oh, that was the beginning, when I got that job at that xyz company, and that was where things started off again after the layoff, after the recession, after my unemployment.'
"But that time hasn't come yet, and I expect it to come. It's just, every time a month goes by and it hasn't come yet — I wonder how many more months it will be."
The thing to realize about Nathan Bussey and Kelly Barker – a former tech worker and a former office administrator – is that their situations are commonplace. In fact, Bussey and Barker might be the lucky ones. As the unemployment rate has ticked down over the last few months, to 8.4 percent, both have made progress.
Not long ago, Bussey got a job at a local call center. He works odd days and 10-hour shifts; he earns less than he did more than 10 years ago. It's not perfect, he says, but maybe he'll be able to move up.
Kelly Barker's hold on employment is more tenuous.
"I'm currently working temporarily through a staffing company," she says. "They've put me on at Idaho Power for a six-week contract."
It's a position she's praying to hold onto. She knows how she'll feel if she doesn't.
"Sick," she says. "I already know that feeling in my stomach. I don't even want to think about it. But it's like everything: You just allow yourself to feel sick if it happens, and then pick yourself up and start over again."
Start over again, that is, while still facing a stubbornly high jobless rate.