Down But Not Out: ‘Looking for a job has been my full-time job’

Tim Skillern

"It wasn't supposed to be this way," Derek Ciapala says.

In October 2009, he had just married. He recently moved to Cincinnati as a part of a job transfer within his financial services company. He and his wife, Jenn, were enthusiastic about their new life together. But soon "something wasn't right" at work, he says, and over a couple years, employees who left weren't replaced.

"That's never a good sign," he says.

It wasn't. On Jan. 7, he was laid off alongside 90 percent of his department. He'd worked for the company since February 2008, most recently as a mutual-fund specialist.

At 34, he found that new life—just not the one he planned for.

Family income plummeted immediately by $35,000. State unemployment benefits (as little as $121 and as much as $305 a week) were tough to rely on. Savings accounts are constantly bare, whittled to $300 by the middle of summer. He says they now count every proverbial penny.

Ciapala is a U.S. Navy veteran, and he considered returning to the military, but he hesitates to abandon the life he and Jenn built in Ohio. After nearly a year of unemployment, he's a month from earning his teaching license from Xavier University, and hopes he can find work in education.

Still, he acknowledges there's uncertainty and concedes life may swerve again.

"[T]hat might be what happens if the American economy doesn't turn around soon," Ciapala says in a first-person account he wrote for Yahoo News about his situation. "There's no guarantee that I will find a teaching job for next year, and I may be forced to make another life-changing decision to provide for my family.

"[Barack Obama's] re-election should have been a moment of celebration, based on his original platform of hope and change, but that's not what I'm feeling. I'm concerned and even a little scared. Maybe I'm wrong. Actually, I hope that I'm wrong. Maybe everything will be all right in four years. I guess we'll find out soon enough," Ciapala says.

It wasn't supposed to be this way for many of us—12.3 million who are jobless, especially the 5 million who are considered long-term unemployed because they haven't worked in more than 27 weeks. We can unearth a bevy of statistics to tell their stories (7.9 percent are still without a job, and 2 million will lose benefits should the country fall off the "fiscal cliff," etc.) but it's personal anecdotes that spotlight what unemployment is truly like.

Ciapala is one jobless worker of many who shared their unemployment stories—written in their own words—with Yahoo News last week. We asked for a snapshot of their lives, but we also wanted to know how they perceive the slow-growing job market against the backdrop of President Obama's re-election: Are job-hunters hopeful? Do they believe the nation is turning a corner? Or are they increasingly worried the country is mired in some jobless netherworld?

In this most recent installment of Down But Not Out, our occasional series on a sour economy, dozens of readers contributed their own accounts. And because joblessness targets such a wide coterie of Americans, we heard from all perspectives: recent college graduates, Baby Boomers, single moms, disabled veterans and the very sick. And, for sure, there are countless "underemployed" workers—those scraping by on part-time or low-wage gigs—and we've published their thoughts, too.

[Related: Previously in Down But Not Out: Voices of the long-term unemployed, Underwater mortgage crisis in photos and 'Student loans have basically ruined my life']

Below are a couple more workers' anecdotes, and you can find all the stories we published as part of this series here. If you're interested in sharing your story of long-term unemployment and your job search, sign up with Yahoo! Contributor Network.

When CJ Duran walks into a store and sees employees working, she looks at them in awe: They have jobs. They're useful. They're self-dependent. They're earning money every day.

She wonders: "What do they have that I don't?"

At 44, she didn't believe a 12-year hiatus from full-time employment to raise her kids would prevent her from securing a job—any job, really. Now forced back onto the job trail, she's tried everything: part-time, full-time, clerical, food service, and retail. She's had no success. She applies to about 28 jobs a week.

"For the past two years," she writes in her story, "looking for a job has been my full-time job."

Duran did find retail work, but it required a 35-mile commute. Soon, her hourly wage of $7.50 didn't jibe financially with $3.25-a-gallon gasoline. "So, I quit, and started looking for jobs closer to home."

By 2012, she'd endured a somewhat Job-like existence: four blood transfusions and a hospital stay that topped $3,000, a $3,000 vet bill, a divorce, personal bankruptcy, foreclosure and a short-sale of her family's house.

Add in joblessness and Duran, a former administrative assistant in Tracy, Calif., dubs her life "desperate."

"I'm still jobless and the holidays are coming fast. I've had some pretty close calls to being completely broke," she says. "I've always believed if you want something bad enough, you do what it takes to get it. I thought I was, but it seems that persistence and motivation are not enough. So what's my problem?"

But hope lingers:  "When depressing or negative thoughts start to come into my head, I always tell myself that as long as I keep going, I will get a job. Every single morning, I tell myself "I am going to get an interview today!" And I do believe it. I have to."

Five more years of unemployment wasn't part of Karen DeSimone's plan when she moved from Detroit to Southern California in early 2008.

Not when she's earning $1 to $4 an hour as a seven-day-a-week on-call assistant for a real-estate agent. Not when she depleted her savings and 401(k) to the tune of $60,000 and $50,000, respectively. Not when she's resorted to soliciting for work, door-to-door, in business parks.

Once earning $60,000 in the automotive industry, DeSimone, 56, moved to Rancho Cucamonga after a six-month fruitless job hunt in Michigan.

"After I was laid off, I thought, 'I will simply find a new job!' Wrong," DeSimone says.

Five years later: nearly zilch on the job front.

She has nonetheless stayed focused, joining the local Chamber of Commerce and working for months for no pay for small-business entrepreneurs just to network and meet people. She still searches weekly for jobs but admits her expectations have changed, saying, "I'm a very optimistic, positive person, but when reality sets in, you count your blessings and try to move on."

She says the recent collective good news for job-seekers is only good for those who are actually finding work: "Every time upbeat unemployment statistics are released, I cringe; so many more of us are still seeking work."

DeSimone would accept $8 to $10 an hour—"anywhere!" she emphasizes—to get a foot in the door.

"I have not given up," she says. "I can't."


Down But Not Out: Readers' stories of unemployment

Read more readers' stories and perspectives about their job searches.