These were the findings of a survey titled “Diminished Lives and Futures: A Portrait of America in the Great-Recession Era,” released in February by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.
The survey does a better job at reflecting the reality working people are living than the cold and distorted figures pumped out by the Labor Department each month. It paints a picture consistent with what supporters of the Militant have found as they take the paper door to door in working-class neighborhoods across the country.
“I’ve been unemployed since May 2012,” Juan Otero, 21, told the Militant at his apartment in the Frederick Douglass public housing complex in Manhattan, N.Y. He was laid off from a job at a frozen yogurt shop. Otero is a certified apprentice painter and member of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. “Getting jobs has been hard for a while,” he said. “You have to deal with anything these days.”
Of those laid off, nearly a quarter said they have been unable to get a new job, the report said. Workers 55 years or older have had the hardest time. Nearly two-thirds of them said they searched for more than a year before finding a job, or have still not found one.
And more and more workers who thought they had retired are now seeking full or part-time work to make ends meet.
“I’ve been looking for a part-time job over the past year and haven’t been able to find one,” Pablo Alveril, 70, told the Militant in one of the Frederick Douglass apartment buildings. For several decades he had worked as a power plant worker and a seaman. “People should be put to work repairing roads and the electric grid,” he said. “This would create a lot of jobs.”
The majority of those who have gotten other jobs after being laid off are now working for lower wages—one-third have taken pay cuts of more than 30 percent, according to the report.
Many with savings accounts have had to dip into them to get by. The report notes that the majority surveyed have less money in these accounts than when the recession began.
Among key expenditures workers have cut back on are doctor visits and other medical treatments. More than one-third did so at some point during the recession; for those laid off more than half avoided needed medical care, the report states.
“And health care is expensive and hard to get,” Otero said. “If I get sick, I’d rather not go to a hospital.”
Eighty-six percent of those surveyed said their lives have been changed by the economic downturn, and 35 percent said it has had “major consequences.”
“I get angry when I pass a vacant house we could live more comfortably in, knowing it will never work because we don’t have enough income or a good enough credit history,” said Sue Chalfant, 58, a health care worker in Des Moines, Iowa. Recently her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter moved in with her after loss of income meant they could no longer afford their own home. Chalfant herself was having trouble paying the rent while living alone.
“The economic retrenchment made worse by a slow recovery has transformed American workers’ financial and job security and altered their expectations about the American economy,” the report concludes. “Six in ten Americans believe they will not recover from the effects of the recession, a sobering assessment of the American recovery.”
Maggie Trowe from Des Moines contributed to this article.
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