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Long Term Joblessness Taking Toll on Coloradans

Posing with his dog Kiska, Arvada resident Doug DeCounter says he's given up trying to find full-time employment.
Photo by Kirk Siegler
Posing with his dog Kiska, Arvada resident Doug DeCounter says he's given up trying to find full-time employment.

Many jobless Americans have turned to friends and family for help to get by.  A recent NPR and Kaiser Family Foundation survey of the long-term unemployed and underemployed shows people’s trust in the government’s ability to help the economy is low, and there may be a correlation.

Long-Term Underemployment

Doug DeCounter lives in a modest, two-story house on a quiet cul de sac in the Denver suburb of Arvada.

It’s where he and his dog “Kiska,” a prolific barker, have spent most afternoons for the past three years.  In the fall of 2008 when the housing market crashed, DeCounter was laid off from his job of thirty years.  He worked for a local mortgage survey company. 

"I’m Midwestern so I tend to internalize stress," DeCounter says.

But at sixty years old, with a degree in anthropology, and most of his experience as a surveyor, DeCounter struggled, competing for scarce jobs. He resorted to one a few hours a week stocking jewelry at a Target. 

Now he’s working part time for his daughter at a local medical services company.

"As far as looking for more work, I really have given up," DeCounter says.

DeCounter says there still aren’t that many opportunities out there.  Since his unemployment benefits ran out, he and his wife have been relying mostly on her salary.  And every day, he’s losing faith in Congress’s ability to help people like him.

"Right now, there has not been any jobs bills passed by the Republican Congress," DeCounter says. "The Senate isn’t doing anything with the Democrats, they’re just all sitting on their hands, it’s like they’re waiting for the next shoe to drop or the next election to get over.

Family Support

This lack of trust in government was expressed by many who took part in the NPR/Kaiser survey.  In fact, more said they thought the government’s efforts to deal with the economy actually hurt their families rather than helped them. 

"They’re looking for a more directed effort," says Professor Bob McGowan, who studies economics at the University of Denver. "You looked at the Roosevelt Administration you had the civilian conservation corps, you look at the Clinton Administration, you had Americorps.."

Professor McGowan says long-term joblessness tends to lead to a loss of faith in government. That’s typical of most economic downturns.  But what’s new this go around, he says, is the finding that a majority of people seem to be turning to friends and family for help, rather than government safety net programs.

"Obviously there’s more reliability there," McGowan says. "And I think there’s a huge distrust that Congress and the President can really come together and solve the problem."

That's what Josh Webb, a 35 year old single dad, did.

"Without my mom, I would hate to even think where I’d be," he says.

Webb especially relied on his Mom for the past week to watch his daughter.  He’s been commuting 60 miles each way from his home in Dacono north of Denver to a casino in Central City.  He’s working the graveyard shift installing a carpet.  It’s the first job he’s gotten in months, but it’s temporary.

"I don’t like depending on the government for anything," Webb says. "But there’s been times when it’s gotten bad and you think about it."

Job and Vocational Training

Webb says he believes in personal responsibility, however, he says he would support some government-funded job training or placement programs.

Doug DeCounter agrees.  Back in his kitchen in Arvada as he kneels down to give Kiska a treat in hopes she'll stop barking,  he says the government needs to focus on re-training programs that might give incentives for people like him to learn a new trade.

"Especially if I could afford it, and not feel like I’m investing everything, my future into it," DeCounter says. "Because the guarantee of the land survey business getting hot again, you know, you’re just not sure."

DeCounter considered one re-training program that would have required him to go back to school and fork over about $30,000; an out of pocket gamble that he says wouldn’t be worth it at his age, let alone affordable.

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.