The Long Road Back To Employment

By: Bill Roberts
Idaho Statesman

August 8, 2009

Jim Welch drove by a road sign in West Boise this week announcing new jobs for a hamburger restaurant opening soon. He made a mental note: Get an application.

The 62-year-old Boisean once earned a six-figure salary in the credit and collections business. Now he is ready to take any kind of job he can get to pay his bills and hold on to what he has.

"My pride was swallowed a long time ago," Welch said.

Welch is on the outer edge of unemployment in Idaho. Except for a short time in a fast-food place, he's been out of work for about 18 months. His unemployment checks ran out last month. And he sees himself at a crossroads: Find some money, or face bankruptcy and watch his Caldwell home slide into foreclosure.

As the state's unemployment rate continues to rise - but the Treasure Valley rate takes a small dip - Welch is a reminder that thousands of people who lost their jobs aren't finding replacements quickly.

Since February, 854 Idahoans have exhausted all their unemployment benefits, including extended payments kicked in by the federal government to help during the recession, without finding work. Many of these people could have been out of work for up to 72 weeks. People on unemployment draw between $90 and $387 a week.

The state said 65,900 Idahoans are without jobs, a record.

In Idaho, prospects for getting work aren't improving. The state's jobless rate rose to 8.8 percent in July - the highest rate in 26 years - up from 8.4 percent, even though the national rate moved down slightly.

The Treasure Valley saw slight relief as the unemployment rate dropped from 10.2 percent in June to 10.1 percent.

Idaho's continuing rise in joblessness reflects the positive effect construction had on the state's expansion and the negative impact once the housing bubble burst, state officials say.

Welch and his wife moved here about four years ago from Las Vegas. Welch worked for a company headquartered in the Netherlands with U.S. headquarters in Baltimore and specialized in commercial collections.

In January 2008, he said, his company told him it was reorganizing. Welch suddenly was out of a job. Since then, Welch estimates he's put out 1,000 resumes. He's up mornings at 5:30 a.m. and on the Internet looking at jobs sites such as Career Builder.

He customizes his resume to each job and has several templates to meet an employer's specific needs.

He's worried that his age works against him. Too many times, he said, he's heard "too much experience."

He's reduced the gray in his hair.

Welch tried consulting. As funds have run short, he has decided to tap into his Social Security at the earliest possible age, which means he will get a smaller monthly payment than he would have had he waited. He gets his first check in October.

Welch leased out his Caldwell house and now lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Boise with his wife. But the tenants moved out of his house at the end of last month, he said.

He's looking everywhere: retail, manufacturing, janitorial and storage companies.

"It's been a strain," he said.

Welch calls himself the victim of the American Dream: He worked hard all his life and bettered himself. Now he stands to lose much of what he's gained because he can't find a job.

"You end up in a situation where you have no control," he said.