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LEE HOCHBERG: Bryan Morris of Portland reflects a new image among America’s unemployed. A college-educated computer programmer with 17 years in the business, he was making $100,000 a year last January. He’s been out of work ever since, one of the 1.4 million white-collar workers who have lost their jobs and are looking for work. Morris was forced to sell his cottage with hardwood floors in trendy Portland, to move to what he derisively calls a tract house in the suburbs.
BRYAN MORRIS: I’ve lived here for a month and a half and my neighbors haven’t even introduced themselves. It’s a suburb, you know. I don’t have any contact with people I used to work with. It’s really isolating.
LEE HOCHBERG: His 26 weeks of federal unemployment benefits have elapsed. He’s relying on extended benefits the state of Oregon approved as its unemployment rate surged to 7.1 percent. That’s tops in the nation along with neighboring Washington State, which also has seen extensive white-collar, hi-tech layoffs. In fact, long-term unemployment for white-collar workers across America is at a 20-year-high.
BRYAN MORRIS: You know, I built up a certain lifestyle, I built up a career where, you know, I was good at what I did and I took a lot of pride in my work and I worked real hard at it. I don’t know. It’s kind of like grieving. I’m grieving for my career.
LEE HOCHBERG: One point seven million Americans have been out of work for more than six months. About half of those managerial, sales, technical or administrative workers at the Seattle outplacement firm Moore and Associates, President Michelle Hurteau says firms that have to cut costs are targeting such employees.
MICHELLE HURTEAU: Companies are doing what they need to do to survive, to turn around. Those folks are expensive. You get rid of thirty, forty, or fifty of them compared to folks that are lower level. That significantly impacts the bottom line.
BRYAN MORRIS: I mean, there used to be pages and pages of hi-tech jobs.
LEE HOCHBERG: Morris had helped develop anti-counterfeiting software and had traveled the world promoting it. Finding comparable jobs to replace the ones they’ve lost is especially difficult for people like him. There are few openings and intense competition for them.
BRYAN MORRIS: I figured tried-and-true method was, you know, send out resumes, try and make contacts with companies, try and learn some new technologies that were coming on. So I did that like mad for a while. It didn’t make a bit of difference.
SPOKESMAN: You want to do that one-on-one with everyone in the room before you’re through with the session.
SPOKESMAN: Make sure you get their name and contact information and send them each a thank you note.
LEE HOCHBERG: It’s not just hi- tech jobs. White collar workers from many fields poured into this career- improvement training session in Seattle this week. Craig Quinn has been without work six months, after a quarter century as a banker and project manager. His wife, Patti, a saleswoman, has been out of work a year.
CRAIG QUINN: You know, in the 24 years I’ve been in business, I always saw downturns and I saw hard economic times. And I just was always able to be in a job or an industry that held through it, and I haven’t been in this one. And it’s been tough.
PATTI QUINN: It’s embarrassing to think about it and it’s frustrating, because I want to be working, I know I could do a great job.
LEE HOCHBERG: How to move on from here is the question now for white-collar workers.
MAN: Do you dummy down your resume? That’s the big question that I’ve hit.
LEE HOCHBERG: In a job-hunting session this week at a Seattle unemployment office, former managers shared strategies. Harry McCartney told the group he’d been offered a job at the Boeing Company the day before the terrorist attacks a year and a half ago. After the attacks, the company rescinded its offer. He’s interviewed for seven jobs since, but been rejected as overqualified. He’s thinking about dumbing down his resume.
HARRY McCARTNEY: You get to a point where there isn’t much out there, so you start applying for anything that you’re qualified for even though you’re overqualified for it, in order to stay viable and to not lose my home and the dogs, and, you know, my semblance of life, you know, I may end up having to dummy it down.
WOMAN: This section would be really good. It’s very dramatic.
LEE HOCHBERG: Others, like Norene Sandifer, an advertising production manager, remain hopeful about landing a job in 2003, but are investigating working for themselves. Early this week, she offered her marketing services, pro bono, to a Seattle musician.
NORENE SANDIFER: Yeah, I like that a lot, it might work.
NORENE SANDIFER: We’ve fooled around with forming a business together. Maybe I can help other musicians who are like jerry and don’t have great, maybe, marketing skills. You know, become my own, sort of, I don’t know if agent is the right word necessarily, but business manager possibly.
LEE HOCHBERG: Despite 17 years of computer programming experience, Morris has decided to change careers entirely.
SPOKESMAN: Start it up, watch the fuel injectors really work.
SPOKESMAN: That’s pretty cool.
LEE HOCHBERG: He’s enrolling at Mt. Hood community college’s auto mechanic training program.
SPOKESMAN: So we’ll be doing a lot with computers too. Do you have a computer at home?
BRYAN MORRIS: Several. ( Laughs ) Supposedly it’s pretty stable work, regardless of what the economy’s doing. I’ll be making less money. It won’t have the “prestige” that other people might see but it’s an honest living. It’s a hell of a lot more honest than a lot of the stuff that corporate executives do.
LEE HOCHBERG: Outplacement specialist Michelle Hurteau says other white-collar employees also will need to adjust to the new workplace reality.
MICHELLE HURTEAU: Unless an individual can explain exactly what they do and how it brings it to the bottom line of a company, there’s no need for them. And that’s… that is the harsh reality of what’s going on and will continue to go on in organizations.
LEE HOCHBERG: For now, Congress has passed and president Bush has signed into law a bill that gives unemployed workers an extra 13 weeks of benefits, after they’ve exhausted their normal 26 weeks.