21 Nov

Janette faces high barriers to re-entering the job mainstream

It’s hard to know just what economic index might notice Janette.

Once, she had a full-time job, living in a house she’d built in Washington state with her husband and daughter. Then, hit by a cascade of calamities – medical problems for her and her daughter, domestic abuse, job problems largely connected to her other issues – she found herself unemployed, hospitalized and escaping across the Columbia with her daughter, bouncing from her mother’s house to her sister’s garage and back.

But through impossibly difficult times, never sure where she’ be sleeping next week and selling her possessions to stay afloat, Janette managed to keep doing what people say she should do: She earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting on-line from Eastern Oregon University, and her daughter is moving through Portland State while working 30 hours a week at Subway.

Now she just needs someone to hire her.

So if Janette shows up in an economic survey, it might be about how hard it is to claw your way back into the economic mainstream at 49, especially when the subject of what you’ve been doing for the past few years is not a promising topic in a job interview.

Even when you’ve been doing all the right things. And when, she makes a point to say, she has no criminal record or drug past.

“I keep trying,” Janette explains, her face animated with the effort of explaining it all. “It’s really discouraging. What if nobody hires me?

“All I can do is keep trying.”

Accounting, of course, is a useful degree. And Janette is convinced she’d be in a strong position, if she just had two years of work experience in the field.

Of course, for that, someone would have to hire her. Which would mean successfully navigating one of those job interviews, where she has to explain her recent years, and always thinks the employer is noticing her weight – her days have not been conducive to healthy eating and exercise – and calculating what it might mean for the company’s health care costs.

Waiting, she’s had short runs at various jobs, such as housekeeping, or running a holiday bazaar for a church – showing, she points out, that she is really good at organizing.

“If I was working full time,” she says, sounding almost wistful, “it would make things much easier.”
So for now, she tries to be there for her daughter, and her mother, knowing how fragile is her barrier against being homeless, in a place where rents are going up monthly.

To try to hold everything together, Janette gets some help from food pantries, from a harvest share program, and from food stamps. That part could also become fragile, as the new political reality of Washington, D.C., unfolds, with new power to the forces looking to shred even a low-calorie safety net. Food stamps are a longtime target of the House Republicans, and now it seems there is little to get in their way.

While Janette furiously paddles to keep her head above water, and hold up her daughter and mother – and tries to imagine getting back to the life she once had – the last thing she needs is losing any remaining support.

But for now, she keeps looking for a way, and keeps trying to stay positive.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of people,” she says firmly, “who have it worse.”

It would be useful to have an economic index that noticed that.

NOTE: This article appeared on oregonfoodbank.org,

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