August 12th, 2011
04:15 PM ET
Holland, Michigan (CNN) - Hope McCoy needs something to go right for a change.
The 41-year-old single mother of two has been out of work off and on since she lost her job as an engineer at a firm in 2005, a position she had held for nearly ten years.
McCoy is one of the 13.9 million people in America who were unemployed last month, more than two years after the worst recession since the Great Depression was supposed to have ended. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the recession ended in June 2009, but economists and administration officials have acknowledged that the economy remains weak.
For McCoy, that means scratching and saving to get by.
McCoy had earned up to $85,000 a year, with overtime, at the engineering firm. After she was downsized, she worked as a cashier at a grocery store for several months until she could find another position as an engineer at a company that paid her half her old salary to do the same work. About a year and a half later, that firm closed and she found herself jobless once again. She took a $7-an-hour part-time job at a dollar store, but had to quit when they cut back her hours so much that child care and gasoline ate up her entire paycheck.
The U.S. unemployment rate inched down a tenth of a percent in July to 9.1%, but 6.2 million people have been unemployed for at least 27 weeks and millions more are under-employed, working part time because their hours were cut or they have been unable to find a full-time position. McCoy has seen her former coworkers, other engineers, working low-paying jobs at local stores just as she did, because there are not enough good-paying ones to go around.
The ripple effects of the loss of all or part of one's salary are often great, as McCoy can attest. After spending more than $120,000 in savings to stay afloat, she could no long afford the payments on her home and lost it. She moved in with her eldest son in May, but he's been unemployed for eight months. So far, he's been able to pay his mortgage, but says time is running out for him.
"I think I'm pretty much at that point of how long I can last, so I really kind of need the work," said Mike McCoy, who worked as a software programmer for three and a half years and is now hoping to get a customer service job at a grocery store.
McCoy's story is not unusual, even in this bustling tourist town, near the shores of Lake Michigan. According to city officials, 228 Holland home owners received foreclosure notices last year and 2011 is on track to match that, with 113 foreclosure notices having gone out in between January and June.
There have been some small signs of life in the flagging economy in recent days. The Commerce Department reported retail sales rose 0.5 percent in July from the previous month, and increased 8.5 percent compared to a year ago, led by purchases of automobiles, gasoline and electronics. In another bit of positive news, the number of first-time filers for unemployment claims fell to a four-month low of 395,000 last week. Still, initial claims improved earlier this year only to begin rising again in the face of high gas prices and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.
Americans still see the job market as weak. According to the latest CNN poll, 7 in 10 respondents say there are few jobs available in their area and only 29% believe there will be more jobs available in their communities a year from now.
It was amidst the nation’s gloomy, uncertain atmosphere that President Obama traveled to Holland on Thursday to tout a growing new industry his administration says will bring high-quality jobs not only to Holland, but to other communities as well. He visited Johnson Controls, Inc, a plant that makes advanced batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles.
"Every day, hundreds of people are going to work on the technologies that are helping us to fight our way out of this recession," Obama told the crowd at Johnson, a plant that began making the batteries with the help of stimulus funds. "That just doesn’t mean jobs in Michigan. You’re buying equipment and parts from suppliers in Florida and New Mexico and Ohio and Wisconsin and all across America."
It was the president's second trip to the city in a little over a year. He touched down here last July to attend the groundbreaking of LG Chem, another advanced battery plant.
These plant openings have been anxiously awaited by many here.
"I do have that small glimmer of hope still that there's something that's going to happen, there's something that's going to change," McCoy said during an interview in her son's kitchen. "I'm hoping with the new plants coming in that more positions will open and things like that."
LG Chem is not yet up and running and while Johnson plans to employ 320 people when it reaches full production, only 75 people work there now and it's clear there is a great deal of pent up demand in town for good jobs. Company officials say they have received more than 1,500 applications for the 320 positions - another sign that jobs are not being created quickly enough.
McCoy, who sometimes gathers cans to earn cash, is "floundering.”
"It's a situation which I know lots of people are facing,” she said. “You just don't know which way to turn or what to do next. Everywhere, everybody is seeming to lose everything they fought for."