Page last updated at 00:03 GMT, Thursday, 29 October 2009

Struggling in a recovering economy

By Michelle Fleury
Business reporter, BBC News, New York

America slowly appears to be emerging from recession, rebounding from its worst slump in decades.

Jon Polis
I've been out of work a few months here or there but never like this
Jon Polis

New figures to be released on Thursday are expected to show that the US economy grew between July and September.

But for many Americans the pain is still dragging on.

More than 200 years ago, Slater Mill in Rhode Island helped kick off America's industrial revolution.

For centuries, manufacturing, mainly in textile mills, provided jobs in this small north-eastern state, but not anymore.

Rhode Island now has the third highest unemployment rate in the country, after Michigan and Nevada. According to the US Labor Department, the rate of unemployment climbed to 13% in September.

This does not come as a surprise to Jon Polis.

Each day, he searches for work on his computer and in the local newspaper.

He says his eight years working for a medical supplies company was over in eight minutes. He was laid off a year-and-a-half ago. Now his benefits have run out and he is living on his savings.

"I can last maybe next March or April," says Jon. "After that I'll just have to go to my family and ask for money."

At age 53, this is not the first recession he has lived through, but it is the worst.

"I've been out of work a few months here or there but never like this," he says.

Back home

It is not just the more experienced members of the labour market who are being affected. The recession is also hitting the young, potentially creating a lost generation.

Colleen Riley
I'll get kicked off my parents health insurance [in December]. Then I'm on my own
Colleen Riley

Recent graduate Colleen Riley starts most of her days eating breakfast with her parents. It is a ritual she would enjoy a lot more if she had not been forced to move back home after she could no longer afford her own apartment.

Since finishing university in May she has struggled to find full time employment. In August she took on a part time job, working 20 hours a week at a local communications firm.

But making ends meet is still a struggle. In three weeks time, she will have to make her first student loan repayment.

"I did go to the university of Rhode Island, which is a public institution," Colleen says.

"With the help of my parents they did pay off a good amount, but I do have about $10,000 in loans."

Her health insurance coverage, which ends in December, is another source of worry.

"I'll get kicked off my parents health insurance," Colleen says.

"Then I'm on my own - so that's definitely my biggest concern."


With so many people out of work and for longer periods of time, the staff at Rhode Island's Department of Labor & Training are rushed off their feet.

Their goal, according to senior manager Scott Greco, is to make sure people are in the best possible position for when companies start hiring again.

"Right now our object with the training is to get people job-ready," he says.

But for Colleen and for Jon the economic recovery feels a long way off.

"I think a very key ingredient to an economy coming back is employment coming back," says Jon.

"The last thing that is going to come back is employment."

America's economy may be improving, but with so many people still searching for work, a return to prosperity looks like a distant dream for many.

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