About the ‘Help Wanted’ project

August 2, 2011

Everybody knows the numbers: An unemployment rate of 9.2 percent. Fourteen million Americans actively trying to find work who are unable to do so. And another 10 million who have settled for part time jobs or given up looking entirely.

Less prominent statistics are even uglier. The average length of unemployment is nine months, drastically longer than in previous recessions. Median wages and hours have sharply declined. Demographic factors pump thousands more people into the workforce every day, making the recovery’s meager job gains even less impactful than they seem.

If the country continues at its current job growth pace, it could take more than a decade just to regain the 8 million jobs lost during the 18-month recession, let alone account for the larger workforce.

“What ails the job market predated the Great Recession,” says Laksham Achuthan, director of the Economic Cycle Research Institute. “It’s more complicated than that. It’s more insidious than that.”

But while the economic horrors of this jobs crisis have been well-documented, few have focused on the psychological struggles of the unemployed.


MCLEAN, VA - JULY 28 : Marc Johnson worked for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee until January 2011. He is now unemployed. He does some work as an administrative assistant at Shiloh Baptist Church in McLean where these photos were taken. (Michael S. Williamson/WASHINGTON POST)

“I am intelligent, experienced, professional, lead with integrity and have excellent references,” a reader wrote in response to a Post article asking the unemployed to write about their experiences. “How did my life come to this? I am exhausted, I need peace of mind and I need a job. I am scared and recently called a suicide hot line...God forgive me.”

“Every application not responded to is rejection – being told I am worthless, useless and unwanted,” another unemployed reader wrote. “Every job posting telling me I am not good enough, that all my life work is worth nothing, tells me I do not measure up. I feel like I have been told a 1,000 times to just die.”

Many of the more than 200 people who responded to our callout didn’t mention financial difficulties at all. Instead, they described their strained relationships with friends and family, their withdrawal from society and their doubts about their own self worth.

In an effort to illuminate this, the true impact of unemployment, The Post has asked six unemployment-affected families to contribute to the “Help Wanted” project, a reader-powered experiment. The families will share their stories through frequent blog posts throughout the summer of 2011, chronicling their struggles to pay the bills, preserve relationships and maintain hope for the future.

The six contributors are a diverse bunch.

There’s a 59-year-old former public relations official from Oklahoma who wonders if he will ever work again and a 32-year-old former journalist from Tennessee who has moved back in with her mother. There’s a 54-year-old from California who worked in the financial industry before losing his job in early 2008 and a 48-year-old from Ohio who worked in the art decoration industry before losing her job in early 2011. There’s a 36-year-old first-time father from Virginia who lost his job in last November’s elections and a 33-year-old first-time mother from Maryland who is waiting to marry her unemployed fiancé until the couple has enough money for “something special.”

They are the faces behind the numbers, and they intend to help the rest of the country understand what those statistics really mean.

Visit the project home page here.

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