Workers getting by, but benefits will end
"The checkbook is not what it used to be. We've taken it day-to-day. Obviously, we've cut back on our spending," said Barb, who lost her job about a year ago.
"The first couple weeks it was OK. It was like every day was Saturday, but then it got very frustrating and depressing. I felt like I wasn't fulfilling my responsibility," said Mike, who was laid off in April.
Collecting unemployment and spending less helps the couple get by, but about 360 Lear and 132 LSI workers laid off in July 2008 could lose their unemployment checks in a couple weeks.
They will likely qualify for a second emergency extension, but everyone knows the benefits will eventually run out. And it's difficult for many people to find a job.
Mike, the former United Auto Workers Local 95 shop chair for Lear, sent out 100 resumes in search of a job as a labor representative. Despite his experience, he was rejected because most employers wanted someone with more education.
"It was very frustrating trying to find work that wasn't out there, and with all the rejection," he said.
While unemployed, the couple cut back on groceries, energy use, cell phone minutes, recreation and entertainment to spend less money. They lost their health insurance. They also began spreading out their bill payments, rather than paying them all at once.
"There's been some sacrifices," Mike said. "It was an adjustment, definitely, for our spending."
But the couple, who had 33 years combined at Lear, are optimistic they'll get through this difficult time.
They both are using Trade Adjustment Assistance for workers displaced by global competition. The program pays unemployment benefits beyond the expiration of state programs and offers up to $15,000 for additional education.
Mike and Barb are attending Blackhawk Technical College.
Mike is studying supervisory management or human resources. Barb is studying criminal justice.
They hope they can get through these lean times until they earn their degrees.
"It's a struggle, but I like school, and I hope it will pay off in the end," Barb said. "I was so scared when I walked into Blackhawk the first day. I was like, ‘What do I do?'"
The couple hope their education will pay off with jobs.
"I'm optimistic that the economy will make a swing for the better," Mike said. "I have to stay positive, and I have to think that life is full of challenges, and I have to think positively that it will work out in the end."