The Strain Adds Up: Bills, Baby And A Job Search

February 1, 2011

Tamara Keith

Whitney Curtis for NPR
Annica Trotter, 25, is feeling financially stressed by her job search. She recently had to cancel her Internet service and car insurance.

At a time when most people think about turning in for the night, Annica Trotter sits down at her computer to apply for jobs.

But it's almost impossible to apply for anything these days without going online, and that's where Trotter hits a snag. The 25-year-old is only able to apply for jobs when her boyfriend, Greg Perine, and his cell phone are home.

Trotter says the couple had to cancel their cable and Internet services to save money.

For the more than 14 million unemployed Americans, navigating the financial strain created by a job loss can be challenging. In Trotter's case, it's also making it harder to find work again.

Juggling A Computer And A Baby

On a recent evening, Trotter doesn't get online until close to 10:30 p.m. She plans to browse job search websites, e-mail friends to see if they know of any prospects and apply for a few positions.

But Perine and their 4-month-old son, Gregory, have other plans.

Gregory is screaming upstairs. The baby is upset, and it seems mom is the only one he wants. But Trotter has precious little time to get online — and this is it.

"I just need an hour to do some applications," Trotter says in a desperate voice to her boyfriend. "It's not like I can do it when you're not here, because you have your phone."

This wouldn't be such a problem if Trotter had a regular Internet connection. But there are a lot of things that would be easier with just a little more money coming in.

She lost her job at a social services agency shortly after her son was born.

Pairing Down

Trotter receives about $1,000 a month in unemployment benefits. But that's about $200 less than the paycheck she brought home when she was working. She says they've fallen behind on a lot of bills — paying what they can, when they can. The couple even had to drop their car insurance.

Gregory keeps screaming. So, Perine brings him to his mother — hoping she can get him to quiet down.

Before long, Trotter scales back her plans. She only applies for one job.

Feeling The Strain: No Outgoing Calls

Almost a week later, Trotter faces another consequence of her family's precarious financial condition.

"I've just been feeling really stressed," she says into a recording device NPR has loaned to her so that she can keep an audio diary. "Our family is definitely feeling the pinch of me being out of work."

The couple is late paying their cell phone bill and the company put their phones on limited service. They can receive calls but can't make outgoing calls.

For days, Trotter has been waiting on a call from a woman in the HR department at a security company. She's hoping to get a dispatcher job. But the phone call comes while Trotter is giving her two children a bath.

"[I] just wanted to cry because I can't call her back," Trotter says.

She asks herself why she had to give the kids a bath right then. Why didn't she have the phone turned up louder?

A Moment Of Elation

Eventually, Perine, Trotter's boyfriend, is able to reach the HR person by calling from his phone at work. She just wanted to let Trotter know that once she receives her application, she'll make sure it gets to the right person.

For Trotter, this is a moment of elation. It's a real job lead.

"It just kind of sums up how this whole process, this whole situation has been from minute to minute. You just don't know," Trotter says. "There's so much uncertainty, and I know for a person like me, it really takes a toll."

Trotter is a worrier, and she says she's tired of fretting about money and bills and delinquent notices. She pleads into the recorder.

"I've been working since I was 15. I just need a job," she says. "Give me a job and I will work hard." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.