The Brutal Journey Back to Work for Millions of Americans


The Brutal Journey Back to Work for Millions of Americans

Job-market casualties drive a sense of betrayal in this election year

Phyllis Swenson recognizes the financial breaking point. She sees it in the faces of people who seek shelter at her church. She hears it when they call there asking for food, a spare gift card, anything.

Now, the shadow of unemployment and loss is stalking her.

“It’s scary,” says Swenson, who recently received a foreclosure notice on her home.

The 63-year-old Fairfax, Virginia, resident is among millions of Americans who haven’t rebounded with the improving U.S. economy. Part-time work at Vienna Presbyterian doesn’t pay all her bills, and almost a year of futile job-hunting has left her desperate.

“Recovery?” she scoffs. “How are we recovering?”

The labor market has staged a strong comeback: Unemployment is 4.7 percent, down from 9.5 percent when the economy started expanding in June 2009. Employers have added an average 150,000 jobs a month this year, though May slowed to just 38,000. The rate at which people quit, a handy measure of job mobility, is trending up.

Yet some Americans still feel a deep sense of betrayal. Their journey back to meaningful work has been brutal — if they even arrived — leaving them with depleted savings, increased debt, homes lost to lenders and for some, long searches that stripped away their most valuable possession: self-esteem. Many who did find jobs now earn less, with fewer benefits.

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