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The Color of Money Challenge: 3 out-of-work D.C. area residents are back on the job

In Bowie, Juan and Bobbie Wilson and their 4-year-old daughter, Neylah, have more than just the Christmas season to smile about.
In Bowie, Juan and Bobbie Wilson and their 4-year-old daughter, Neylah, have more than just the Christmas season to smile about. (Mark Gail/the Washington Post)
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"I honestly believe that without this help setting up a budget, Juan and I would not be together today," Bobbie Wilson said. "I actually do not miss our debit cards. I don't miss the credit cards. I don't miss any of it. I have definitely realized from this year that we need to have savings to make it through anything that happens."

The unemployment was hardest on Juan.

"As a man, you feel disgusted when you can't find work," he said.

Wilson had hoped to find employment in the information technology field, and he's taking courses to help prepare him to become a Cisco Certified Network Associate. For now, he's happy that he landed a night-shift warehouse job earning $10 an hour.

"I feel good," he said. "I need the money, and I'm still looking for a job in the computer field. But at least I have something."

In many respects, the Wilsons and Rose were representative of the unemployment trends that have developed as a result of the recession.

Rose reflected the upward trend of long-term unemployment. It took him 15 months to find a job. The median duration of unemployment was 20.1 weeks as of November, up from 9.9 weeks in November 2008. The average duration of unemployment is now 28.5 weeks, up from 19.2 a year ago.

"Resilience is important," Rose said. "I feel like I'm in a good spot and at a kind of place were I can flourish professionally."

The Wilsons typified people who take any work they can get, including part-time jobs and contract work. Juan and Bobbie both worked part time when they couldn't find full-time employment.

The number of people working part time for economic reasons was 9.2 million last month, according to the Labor Department. These workers were settling for fewer hours because their jobs had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.

Bobbie Wilson is working as a contract paralegal. Her contract has been extended, but she doesn't know for how long.

"Not being permanent causes me a lot of anxiety sometimes," she said.

Although the unemployment rate, now at 10 percent, is edging down, there are still 15.4 million people out of work, more than twice the number in December 2007, when the jobless rate was 4.9 percent.

"This year has been tough," Bobbie Wilson said. "It's rough out here no matter what they are saying on the news."

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