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June 01, 2012

A Personal Look At Unemployment

by Jim Randle

The U.S. Labor Department says 12.7 million Americans are jobless, with four of ten of them out of work for 27 weeks or more. One woman has spent two years in the ranks of the long-term unemployed.  She made a difficult journey from highly-paid corporate sales agent to living in a noisy and dangerous homeless shelter.  

Robbyne Sudduth sold high technology products for Xerox , and made more than $100,000 a year.  

She lost that job, and was surprised when she could not find another.

"I was literally shocked when no one hired me. Like what is going on here, I can’t find a job....  I’ve got all this experience, I've got all this background, of course I’ll get a job," she said.

Sudduth lived on her savings till they ran out, lost her house to foreclosure, and saw her possessions sold to pay a bill.  For a few months she lived in her car and a succession of homeless shelters.

Friday, the U.S. Department of Labor said there are 5.4 million Americans who, like Sudduth, have been out of work for at least 27 weeks.  They make up nearly 43 percent of the jobless ranks.   

"It (homelessness) could happen to anyone. As soon as that savings is gone, you have gone through the 401-k (retirement savings account) and everything else, what do you do?," she said.  

Sudduth described her plight in a book called “Journey.”  She said moving to a homeless shelter was quite traumatic for her.

"It is not a fun place to be, by any means, and it takes every ounce of strength that you have to not let that permeate your mind set so that you can stay focused and stay where you need to stay to get to the next step," she said.   

Sudduth says it was sometimes very frustrating to deal with the public assistance bureaucracy, which could be harsh, arbitrary or demeaning at times.  

She kept looking for work, but in her 40s she worried about losing out to younger competitors, and feared prospective employers would think her long period of unemployment made her a poor prospect.

"When you are now looking at age, you are looking at gaps in the resume, and your are competing with people who are 20 years younger than you there is a lot going on in that process," she said.  

Sudduth eventually found  work at another high-tech company and is recovering financially.  She says her deep religious faith was critical to surviving her ordeal.

Sudduth says she hopes her book will be a help to other people struggling with the economic and personal trauma of unemployment.