ATLANTA (Reuters) - Rising U.S. jobless figures are making life harder for people who are already unemployed, heightening their insecurity and forcing them to compete for work in a dramatically shrinking market.
In a series of interviews in cities across the country people who were recently laid off spoke of their fears about finding work in the face of fresh evidence of a deepening recession.
The U.S. economy hemorrhaged more than half a million jobs in November as employers last month axed 533,000 jobs, according to data released on Friday.
That’s the biggest number for any month since 1974 and nearly 200,000 more than economists expected. The jobless rate hit 6.7 percent, its highest since 1993.
John Hendon, 36, lost his job with Mutual Savings Credit Union in Birmingham, Alabama in November. He said it had been difficult, not least because he is a married father of three.
“It is not easy finding a job. It is a tough environment and very challenging,” said Hendon, who is looking for jobs in the banking sector and beyond.
“They are telling me due to the economy they are weighing in on their budget for next year .... It’s a bad time of year to be out of work and there are so many people looking,” said Hendon, who earned over $50,000 a year before losing his job.
Some city employment centers said they are seeing two to three times the number of people seeking work as a year ago, with heavy layoffs in the construction, sales and retail sectors.
A few of the unemployed, however, expressed guarded optimism about plans by the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama to try to revive the economy with a big stimulus package.
“I didn’t vote for him myself but I kind of like some of the plans he’s coming up with. I hope Congress sees it that way too,” said George Pugh of Phoenix, Arizona.
Pugh worked in management and project liaison for an interior design firm but was laid off in September amid a sharp downturn in construction.
Ann Hardie took a buyout in September from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper where she had worked as a reporter for 21 years.
Since then she has faced the highs and lows common to those who are suddenly unemployed and was having to decide not only which jobs to apply for but also whether to choose a different career path.
“I still think I made the right decision but when I look into the future I am not sure who I am going to be,” said Hardie, who is married with two children.
“The recession has made the anxiety really high. Every time I hear that they are slashing jobs here and there it is a double edged sword. I think they will likely do that at the newspaper ... (but also) what am I going to do. There are no jobs any more.”
In another example of the tough choices faced by the newly unemployed, Carlos Gamez, 41, worked for 12 years in Phoenix selling General Motors cars. He lost his job last month as car and truck sales plunged and dealerships closed.
Gamez said Obama’s plans might help people in his situation but he was not waiting for the government and was retraining and looking for a job in information technology.
“It hurt me, I’d been doing it for too many years... It’s a tough market right now ... but you have to stay positive,” he said.
Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor in Phoenix and Verna Gates in Birmingham; Editing by Chris Wilson