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Eight Forty-Eight

Hard Working: Piecing Life Together

One and a half million people in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan were out of jobs at the end of 2008. They're neighbors and friends, people we stand next to on the El, and walk past on the street. Their stories inspired a series we're calling Hard Working –that's all about jobs and joblessness, work and what it means when work is hard to find. Today, we have the story of one woman who's doing everything she can think of to piece life together.

Over the past month, I've talked to a lot of people about work. And losing work, and the long, long-slog that is hunting for work. Carole Cantrell is 51. She's an artist who lives in a small and spare apartment in Chicago. She doesn't have a couch, or a dining table, so we sit and talk on two chairs.

CANTRELL: Sometimes I get really anxious and really terrified about money, because I'm really living on a thread.

Carole had $82 in the bank last week. And about $1,000 of bills due at the end of the month. She wants a job in graphic design and has been looking since the spring when she finished school. She says up until Thanksgiving there were jobs to apply for. She was spending hours a day on researching companies and writing cover letters, but then...

CANTRELL: Craigslist dropped off dramatically, the college job board dropped off dramatically.

She tries to stay focused on the things she can control. Big things. Like how she talks about herself; she practices her interview skills in the mirror, with her friends, and sometimes with her cat.

CANTRELL: He's always looking at me....he'll always listen.

And little things.

CANTRELL: I have one pair of interview pants, and I've been lucky that I can wear them year round.

Carole is trying to pay for the basics and to create a life that has some pleasure in it. Everday she likes to eat a bit of chocolate and tries to work on her art.

CANTRELL: Things like creativity and sex. I think. When people are having survival issues those are really the first things to go.

Carole's portfolio was landing her interviews when there were jobs to apply for...often with people years younger than she is. And she comes to life when she shows me her designs.

CANTRELL: This is actually one of my favorite projects the rest of the portfolio is work from school and this is publication design.

Right now, she does have a freelance project with a restaurant chair company helping lay-out their products. She says she's learned a lot about chairs. On Tuesday, she made photocopies for an attorney at a Fed Ex Kinkos store. He pays her $20 an hour...for anywhere from 1-8 hours a week.

CANTRELL: I know it's mundane, but this is the stuff that has to be done. That someone has got to do. And he hired me. (laughs)

She laughs, but the job is tough. The photocopiers are really particular. I can feel my neck muscles tighten just following her from machine to machine. The documents have to be placed perfectly.

CANTRELL: Cross your fingers.  (Photocopy machine sound.)  I'm a painter you know. I have this innate understanding of that world. But this kind of stuff...it can freak me out.

Carole made $145 making copies. When she got the check, the laywer asked her to wait a few days to cash it. She has an interview to get food stamps this week. She says she's having to cut back on food; she's eating a lot more beans School loan collectors are calling. She doesn't know where rent will come from.

CANTRELL: What can I do, if I go out on I interviews, if I send out a dozen resumes a week, what else can I do.

She recently applied for some office jobs and a job cleaning. But she says, she doesn't even get calls back for that sort of work.

Related: Hard Working Blog
Related: Hard Working Facebook Group
Twitter: WBEZeconomy

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