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Meet Lena Rouse, One of Ohio's Long-Term Unemployed Workers

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Ohio jobless numbers will be released on Friday. But some of the long-term unemployed are facing hard life choices after losing unemployment benefits at the end of December. From Ohio Public Radio member station WOSU, Tom Borgerding reports on a Central Ohio woman caught in a financial visegrip.

Thursday, January 23, 2014 at 9:30 am

As I arrived at her home, 43 year old Lena Rouse had arranged her laptop and phone on a living room coffee table. She explained she often “tweaks” her resume. Before the Great Recession, Rouse worked for 19 years in banking and financial services. Since then she’s twice been unemployed for long periods, including all of 2013. But, not for lack of searching for a new job.

“It’s a lot of rejection,” Rouse said.

Rouse is among the long-term unemployed in Ohio. During the 13 months she’s been looking for a new job, she received unemployment benefits. But her last check arrived three weeks ago, on Dec. 28. And it’s uncertain whether Congress will again extend benefits.

“I have zero income right now, zero,” she said. “This is the first month things haven’t been paid yet. Plus I’ve been approved for Medicaid, and well that’s humbling, really, to have to, to have go that route.”

During her first lengthy period of unemployment Rouse said she couldn’t pay anyone to read her resume. She went back to school, earned a second Masters degree in information systems management. That helped her get a full time job in her field as a project worker. But she was laid off again at the end of 2012 and has since been actively looking for work. That’s a requirement for anyone receiving jobless benefits, and it’s why Rouse bristled at late night characterizations of the jobless.

“They’re out of touch with reality at that point," she said. "I want to work. And I want to grow. And I really want to contribute and build a career. And it’s been difficult."

Rouse is among 1.3 million Americans who lost jobless benefits at the end of December. But Ben Johnson at the Department of Job and Family Services said the state does not keep count of the number of Ohioans included in that figure.

“It’s not something that our regular monthly employment data quantifies,” Johnson said.

One concern among economists is whether more of the long-term unemployed will quit looking for work and drop out of the labor force. Rouse said that’s not an option for her. After a year without a job she has run out of financial options.

“Between Christmas money from last year to tax returns and selling some jewelry and cashing out my small 401K from my last full time job, I’ve been able to kind of squeak on by -- oh, and Christmas this year," Rouse said. :Now I’ve hit that point where the cash flow has stopped.”

And without any cash flow, Rouse said it's more difficult to stay marketable. Within weeks she could face what she calls the most difficult decision.

“I’m going to have to strongly consider getting rid of my stuff and maybe moving in with family or something along those lines,” she said.

Rouse vows to keep looking for a job. Though she’d prefer to stay in Columbus, She’s begun sending resumes to companies in San Antonio and Phoenix among other cities.

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