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Voices of the Long-Term Unemployed
Voices of the Long-Term Unemployed

AIR DATE: December 21, 2011

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.”

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

comments powered by Disqus
Did the lady who rides the bus, say it's who you bribe? Sorry, radio reception isn't great when leaving las vegas. But it's true, we moved to LV in 2006 - my husband had worked at one of the world's top 10 hotels for 10 years -that and professionism meant nothing in LV. We thought he was going to work for one of the large casinos - we didn't know what happened - sometime later we learned he hadn't paid the fee and his records were falsefied by a manager there. We left in 2008, brought our own motel in rural NV and are doing very well. 85% occupancy rate. Unfortunately, we had to do a short sale on our house there this year.

Vegas isn't about hospitality -

Cynthia GarciaDec 21, 2011 12:26:56 PM
moved to LV 4.5 yrs ago from ncal. was working for a international elec engineering firm there. came here due to house was affordable. tried to get a job prior to moving but no agency here seemed to want to help until i moved here. heard all the reasons why and compensated for it on resumes. just more LV talk. spent a few 1000's on job interview skills agency (what a sham), went on many many interviews and just never landed a job. had my resume changed numerous times per job. still no luck. almost 5 years later and nada. for me, i'm leaving state. great place if one fits into the LV mentality (what ever that is - well, cheap labor for one, etc). i assume now i'm not LV material, so time to move on. savings almost gone, so bye bye
bcDec 20, 2011 11:00:58 AM
A big problem for so many out of work professionals is that when times were good, most acted like job security and more importantly - income was going to last forever and spent money recklessly. Part of being a professional is behaving professionally with your personal wealth. That's not to say that if you were 100% responsible, times would not be tough for you. I can't completely fault those who had a comfortable level of wealth and bought luxury items. Part of life is living in the moment. Having enough jewelry and cars to sell over several years, however mildly hints that you probably didn't focus on saving when times were good. Either way, we are where were are. The economy was simply the catalyst that exposed mistakes we made when times were good. I do hope things turn around for anybody who has fallen on tough times AND has been honest enough to own and correct mistakes they have made in the past. I called in and left some job leads that I know of in the city. If I find more, I will call or post again. Hang in there everybody. This has happened before and will happen again. Its during hard times where you find yourself and realize what is truly important. God bless.
MikeDec 20, 2011 10:56:17 AM
Again sorry to say this but these people need to move to a different city if they want to work in their fields. They are both in industries that have been deeply hit in Vegas.
aunty palinDec 20, 2011 10:31:25 AM
To Celeste, Don't leave your child to go to Dallas for work. Your child is more important than a job. It's all how your looking at it. You will be much happier poor, dirt poor as long as you are in your child's life. As far as your reasons for not filing for unemployment, that's false pride your carrying and it will harm you in the long run. I was in your shoes in a way and now I'm very poor but I'm going to UNLV on a Pell grant and I'm with my son and I'm very happy. There is light at the end of the tunnel and the path to the end is education. I hope you see this post, I am 41 and had to start all over in school with 20 year old's. I promise you money is not important, possessions are not important. Education and family is important. You just have to adjust your PERCEPTION. Don't worry what other people think of you, this is YOUR life. Casino's asking whether you have filed for unemployment, it's for a tax break for them. It's not about YOU. Best of luck to you :)
Ligeia WillDec 20, 2011 10:28:35 AM
I'llbe contrary again and say that Celeste's "child" is 23 not 13 . If Celeste really can "get a job in a week" in Dallas, she should go and do it. I wonder what percentage of adult children live in different (distant) cities from their parents? I'd say it is a significant number if not the majority.
aunty palinDec 20, 2011 11:34:03 AM
Sorry to sound harsh but Celeste has many contradictions in her situation.

She applies for jobs 3-5 hours a day but also says each app takes 1-1.5 hrs each and she does 10-15 per day. She has sold practically everything in her house yet she thinks her daughter doesn't suspect the hardship. She says her daughter doesn't appreciate where the money is coming from yet the daughter is working 2 jobs and going to school full time.

I'm a tad more sympathetic for the engineer currently speaking vs the mortgage/finance sector folks.

aunty palinDec 20, 2011 10:25:07 AM
Something to think about...
Ligeia WillDec 20, 2011 10:32:46 AM
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