Walking Papers

“They shook my hand and said, `Merry Christmas, we’ll try to call you back – no promises; no guarantees. Turn in your uniform. See ya.’ It was that cold,” said Bart Sexton, retelling the events after a local United Parcel Service Christmas party last year.

A recently discharged Navy veteran of the

¬†The alarm is silent. Your wallet is empty. Such is the life of someone who’s been laid off.

By DAVID SPEAKMAN 

“They shook my hand and said, `Merry Christmas, we’ll try to call you back – no promises; no guarantees. Turn in your uniform. See ya.’ It was that cold,” said Bart Sexton, retelling the events after a local United Parcel Service Christmas party last year.

A recently discharged Navy veteran of the Panama invasion and the Gulf War, Sexton said he had been hired at UPS in October 1995. Although startling, his quick holiday-time dismissal was expected – and common. Sexton joined a select group of workers that many industries depend on – seasonal help. These workers, many in the 18- to 30-year-old range, usually are hired in October and become an important part of the corporate team.

When the holidays are over, and things slow down a bit, though, these “migrant workers” of the ’90s are dismissed. The good ones sometimes are called back when future jobs open. But not always.

Sexton knew at the time of hire “the possibility of layoff was an almost certainty.” But that didn’t make him feel any better.

Twentysomethings are bombarded by a series of firsts. First car, first permanent full-time job and, unfortunately, first pink slips.

Young adults are particularly vulnerable to unemployment, according to Gary Gatman, planning director for JobWorks, a northeast Indiana private sector employment and workforce development service based in Fort Wayne.

“Younger workers and part-time workers – usually mothers in two-income households – are among the hardest hit,” Gatman said.

Making matters worse, he said January through March is the most difficult time for the unemployed to find work. In general, the economy tends to slow down during this time period.

Although about the same number of unemployed are processed through JobWorks each month – about 30 in Allen County – Gatman said the program had a 60 percent job placement success rate in December but only a 17 percent success rate for January.

Although both Sears Roebuck & Co. and GTE have announced the possibility of reduction-in-force layoffs, a U.S. Postal Service mail processing center opened last year in Fort Wayne and soon is expected to hire another batch of part- and full-time workers.

Older workers sometimes fear that twentysomethings, who are traditionally paid less than their older counterparts, are a threat to their job security. Gatman said that wasn’t necessarily the case.

“Lower wages (for twentysomethings) is an advantage of sorts,” he said, “but that is offset by less experience. Employers want a proven work and attendance record. Settling for lower wages is not a major benefit.”

Dealing with first-time unemployment can be a scary thing, but it usually isn’t the end of the world. Tim Williams, a 25-year-old former sales administrator at The Essex Group in Fort Wayne, has been dealing with unemployment since he lost his job a year ago.

“First, you look at finances and see what you’re going to be able to pay,” Williams said. “I got rid of my new car, gave up my apartment and scanned the classifieds.”

Then there’s 29-year-old Julia Kirchhausen, who was with the Buffalo, N.Y., Philharmonic from January 1993 to July 1994. During her tenure, she was laid off – twice.

“They sent us registered letters at home,” said Kirchhausen, who has since moved up in the orchestral world and is now the marketing director of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. “It was very short and photocopied and not personalized at all. It was devastating, even though we knew it was going to happen.

“We knew what the cash flow situation was, and we knew that there wasn’t any,” she continued. “We went on unemployment, which is a humbling experience, because here you are a supposedly professional person who has been to college and done all the right things and has worked hard and worked well.”

And because bills can’t be paid without money, a possible source of funds is unemployment checks from the local Indiana Workforce Development office.

Although some frown on the use of public assistance, Sexton explained: “If you’ve worked, you’ve paid your dues. I don’t plan on living off the system for my entire life. Unemployment claims are a part of a job like medical and dental benefits.”

DEALING WITH DEBT

  • Claiming unemployment
    Why: If you’ve worked at least three months, these checks could keep you from starving or moving back with the parents.
    Where: Indiana Department of Workforce Development, 5821 S. Anthony Blvd.
    Phone: 447-3575
    Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday
    What to expect: It’s first come, first served. Show up as early as possible. Expect at least two hours of waiting in line, answering a computer questionnaire and waiting to speak to a counselor. The counselor will schedule an appointment for a mandatory 90-minute course. Because of paperwork and red tape, benefits will be delayed at least one week from your application. Bring your social security or green card.
    What you get: Providing you have worked long enough to qualify and your past employer doesn’t deny benefits, you can expect to get between $50 and $217 each week for a maximum of 26 weeks in a one-year period – depending on your former salary. No taxes are taken out. You are required to sign a weekly form that lists at least one company where you are trying to get hired.
  • Food Stamps
    Why: Unemployment checks can’t cover all the bills – especially if you have children.
    Where: Allen County Division of Family and Children (formerly Welfare), 4820 New Haven Ave.
    Phone: 458-6200
    Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday
    What to expect: Paperwork galore – especially if you don’t live alone. You can’t buy beer or cigarettes with food stamps. Call before showing up to be sure you bring correct identification and other information to the meetings.
    What you get: Specific dollar amounts depend upon demonstrated need.