One morning in the autumn of 1981, not long after losing her job at Bethlehem Steel, 31-year-old Carolyn Gardner looked out the window of her Baltimore row house and noticed her Chevy van was gone.
It was a '78, white. Gardner had bought it pre-layoff for $1,500 down, $202 a month. After her layoff she missed two payments, and the dealer called to warn about repossession.
"They came in the middle of the night," Gardner said. "They didn't leave a note or anything. My tools and my children's toys were still in the van." Now that the car is gone, Gardner has to borrow a car to chase jobs. She once camped out at Bendix all night when she heard they were hiring.
Sixteen months of unemployment have been like an unending bad joke. Gardner gave up her $25-a-week driving job at Meals on Wheels after commuting became too expensive; commuting was expensive because she had to move into her mother's suburban home after she was evicted from her own.
Leaving Meals on Wheels "voluntarily" meant no unemployment checks again until she'd earned $1,400 at another job. So she worked in a bar for six months, but that meant child-care costs. She's back at Meals on Wheels, but having her earnings verified often keeps her in the unemployment office for hours.
"There are a millions of us looking for jobs," says Gardner. "They say, 'What can you do?' I can do anything, just show me. I can adapt to anything. But I don't see an end to this. Sometimes at night I go into the bathroom. I fill up the tub with hot water, and cry."