Laid Off And Left Out In Wisconsin


MADISON, Wis. -- Kathy Truesdel has no love for Scott Walker.

"He kiboshed the high-speed rail. It could have put me to work," she said. "That's my biggest gripe."

Walker, the new Republican governor of Wisconsin, nixed the Milwaukee-to-Madison project started under his predecessor, Jim Doyle (D), which had $810 million behind it from the 2009 stimulus bill. Walker cited the costs of continuing the project once the federal funds ran out, even though the project's proponents said it would have supported 5,500 construction jobs in Wisconsin for the next three years.

Truesdel, a laid-off forklift driver, thought some of that employment might have come her way. She told HuffPost she's been jobless for two years after working steadily for the previous 20.

"Nobody seems to want to hire me," said Truesdel, 41. "I've never been in this position my whole life."

It's not something she wanted to protest about. She said she wasn't interested in joining the anti-Walker demonstrations raging at the state capitol building up the street, where tens of thousands of union workers have swarmed to protest Walker's proposal to strip collective bargaining rights from most government employees.

Too much of a crowd for Truesdel. On Wednesday night, she sat on a barstool three blocks away at a dark dive called Mackesey's Irish Pub, wearing a black hoodie. No noisy protesters here, and not even any students at the moment, either. Just the Wisconsin-Michigan basketball game on TV and burgers for $4. Truesdel and another regular, Mary Baldassare, recognized this reporter as an out-of-towner. Baldassare immediately wanted to know how their visitor liked Madison. "I like to be friendly with people when I see they're new," she said.

Baldassare, 59, said she's also wary of the big crowds, though she supports the protesters and unions in general. "It's the only way small people can have their voices heard," she said. "In other regular jobs, if you complain, they get rid of you."

Baldassare said she works one day a week cooking at a sorority house but has been without steady employment since 2008. She met Truesdel here about a year ago.

"It's nice to go out once and a while and talk to people, commiserate," she said. Despite her degree in culinary management, she's only been able to find odd jobs cooking or cutting hair. She used to run a motel in Florida, and worked alternately as a hairdresser or a cook her whole adult life. Before her husband died in 1999, she said, they used to go out to dinner once or twice a week. She said not having the money to go out more often "makes me feel kind of worthless."

The average U.S. unemployment spell now lasts nearly 37 weeks. The longer a person is out of work, the less likely they are to find a job, regardless of background. While the overall unemployment rate for people with a college degree is 4.2 percent, compared with 14.2 percent for people who don't have a high school diploma, high school dropouts and college grads are equally represented among the million-plus who've been out of work for at least 99 weeks, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Truesdel said her unemployment benefits ran out a few weeks ago. She's still filing claims, she said, so the government knows that the unemployment crisis isn't over. "Maybe they'll address it more," she said. "I don't hear about it so much in the news."

Baldassare said she's got a few weeks of benefits left thanks to part-time work that interrupted her jobless spell. She said she's applied for every job she can find, including cooking and bartending gigs. It seems to her that businesses in this town would rather hire college kids for the kind of work she can do. The experience of constantly applying for jobs and never even getting a response from employers makes her feel small.

"I feel like I'm a little piece of lint on the earth. A little dust bunny," she said. "I have so much to give."

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