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Ohio


One Ohioan's experience with long-term unemployment
Lena Rouse says it's not for lack of trying to find work
Story by TOM BORGERDING


 
Congress continues to debate the extension of unemployment benefits that ran out in December.
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Ohio jobless numbers will be released later this week. But, some of the people who have been out of work for a long time are facing hard life choices since their unemployment benefits ran out at the end of December. From Ohio Public Radio member station WOSU, Tom Borgerding reports on an Ohio woman caught in a financial vise grip.
LISTEN: The long search and struggle

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As I arrived at her home, 43-year-old Lena Rouse had arranged her laptop and phone on a living room coffee table. She explains she often “tweaks” her resume.

Before the Great Recession, Rouse worked for 19 years in banking and financial services. Since then she’s twice been unemployed for long periods, including all of 2013. But, that was not for lack of searching for a new job. 

“It’s a lot of rejection,” says Rouse. 

The last check and dwindling options
Rouse is among the long-term unemployed in Ohio. During the 13 months she’s been looking for a new job, she received unemployment benefits.  But, her last check arrived three weeks ago, on Dec. 28. And it’s uncertain when or if Congress will renew those benefits. 

“I have zero income right now, zero,” says Rouse. “So, this is the first month things haven’t been paid yet. Plus I’ve been approved for Medicaid and, well, that’s humbling, really, to have to, to have go that route.”

During her first lengthy period of unemployment, Rouse says she couldn’t pay anyone to read her resume. She went back to school, earned a second masters degree in information systems management. That helped her get a full-time job in her field as a project worker. But, she was laid off again at the end of 2012 and has since been actively looking for work. That’s a requirement for anyone receiving jobless benefits and it’s why Rouse bristles at late night characterizations of people who are unemployed

Out of touch
“They’re out of touch with reality. … I want to work, and I want to grow. And I really want to contribute and build a career, and it’s been difficult,” says Rouse. 

Rouse is among 1.3 million Americans who lost jobless benefits at the end of December. But, Ben Johnson at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services says the state does not keep count of the number of Ohioans included in that figure. 

“It’s not something that our regular employment data quantifies,” says Johnson.

One concern among economists is whether more of the long-term unemployed will quit looking for work and drop out of the labor force. Rouse says that’s not an option for her. After a year without a job, she has run out of financial options.

“Between Christmas money from last year to tax returns and selling some jewelry and cashing out my small 401K from my last full time job, I’ve been able to kind of squeak on by, oh and Christmas money from this year. Now I’ve hit that point where the cash flow has stopped,” she says. 

Heading to another state?
And without any cash flow, Rouse says it’s more difficult to stay marketable. Within weeks, she could face what she calls the most difficult decision.

“I’m going to have to strongly consider getting rid of my stuff and maybe moving in with family or something along those lines.”

Rouse vows to keep looking for a job. Though she’d prefer to stay in Columbus, She’s begun sending resumes to companies in San Antonio and Phoenix among other cities.

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