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Jobless, but not alone

The creator of a popular web forum for the unemployed talks about how heralding the recession’s end is premature.

Last Thursday, unemployment claims fell for the second week in a row. Is the economy finally getting better?

Jenny Hong, the proprietor of, doesn’t think so. Joblessness rates remain high, and the site’s forum still draws thousands of visitors a day, sharing tips on everything from benefits and job hunting to relationships and debt management.

Hong, a married mother of three who lives in Columbia, S.C., spoke with Need to Know about what people are saying on the site and what she’s fighting for.

Mona Iskander: Why did you start this website?

Jenny Hong: I was unemployed for over 2 1/2 years and it was very isolating. I decided to start a website to create a forum for people like me. When you’re unemployed, it’s hard to talk to people who are employed. The aim is to lift peoples’ spirits up, but we’re also doing a lot of campaigning on behalf of our members.

Iskander: How many visitors do you get? And do you have a sense of who they are?

Hong: We get approximately 5,000 unique visitors a day and we have 4,000 registered users. We have a lot of highly educated people with master’s degrees and Ph.Ds who just cannot get jobs. But we also have a broad range of people in skilled labor and manufacturing, human resources, paralegals and attorneys, accounting and IT.

Iskander: Have you noticed any increase in members getting jobs?

Hong: There are a few members who have found work, but most of it is due to the temporary Census hiring which is not full-time work, so the situation for a lot of people is still bad, if not worse, than back in 2008. Statistically, there are still about six people on average competing for one job.

Age discrimination is another problem. A lot of people might have advanced degrees, but they are in their 50s and 60s, so that makes it harder.

Iskander: Any sign of people trying to refocus their careers or try a different path?

Hong: The health industry seems to be on the upswing, so some people are retraining in that field. I have friends who have gone to school recently and have been able to get jobs in nursing, but that takes time and money. There are a lot of people in our forums who are on the verge of homelessness. When you’re in that dire of a situation, it’s hard to do that type of switch.

Iskander: What’s the biggest hurdle for the people on your forum?

Hong: The ongoing issue for a majority of our members is that they have exhausted all of their unemployment benefits and are still trying to find work. It’s really hard out there. Many people are worrying how they are going to pay their rent this month, whether they will lose their home, be able to feed their families.

Another problem is that people are applying for jobs and not even getting to the interview stage because they’ve been unemployed so long, and there is usually a credit check involved in applying for a job. Many people have accumulated bad credit from being out of work. There is one bill sitting in Congress that would stop credit checks on new hires. We’d like to see that addressed.

Iskander: You mentioned earlier that you are working on behalf of the people in your forum. How so?

Hong: Our site and others are continually campaigning for Congress and the Obama administration to extend benefits until jobs become a reality. A majority of the people on our board have extended their unemployment benefits all the way to the end. We want Congress to take note. There are so many people living by a thread.

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  • mc

    I don’t think Unemployed numbers have changed. People are not gainfully employed. Several of them hold two or three part time jobs to make both ends meet. And there are many still unemployed and are looking for low paying jobs even though they are highly qualified with PhDs and Master’s Degrees.

    People get jobs not for a higher pay but for lower wages such as Certified Nursing Assistant, Nurse Technician, Dental Assistant, Surgical Assistant, etc…. There are many employed like that. Quantity is not quality. We may have 1000 jobs at $5 an hour as against 100 jobs at $50 an hour. There is no quality. American day-to-day life has deteriorated. People live on minimum wages from hand to mouth. How long can this continue? Nobody knows. It is very frustrating.

    We also hear about the major Financial Scandals from Countrywide, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and CitiGroup. These are the few of the ten financial institutions identified as the worst by the Financial Media. It is obvious that these institutions ruined this country’s home mortgage business by introducing the false mortgage products that should not be used in the market. And when their business went down, the so-called banks asked for bailout from the Taxpayers.

    I don’t understand how one calls it a capitalism when the banks beg for taxpayers’ money. What truly happened between the years 2005 and 2008 was that home loans beyond the consumers’ ability to re-pay were thrust down through the throats of consumers by greedy banks.
    Politics plays a major role in all these financial institutions. It does not matter whether Democrats or Republicans, they both seem to have the same ingredients.

    “The highest return on assets is always a political contribution.”
    Martha Stewart went to jail for her actions. What about these people from Goldman Sachs, Countrywide, and other Financial Institutions? They take a vacation? No Way

    Is this Capitalism? No.
    Is this Socialism? Yes, because the Taxpayers bail out these banks.
    The question we should ask is:
    Why should the Taxpayers pay for the mistakes of a few Financial Executives?
    As SEC rightly put it:
    Goldman Sachs committed a highly sophisticated fraud, making big profits on the backs of struggling home owners, packaging their soaring mortgage debt as exotic investments some at Goldman knew would fail.
    The SEC and FDIC should investigate and hold these Executives from Countrywide and Goldman Sachs Accountable for the acts they have committed.
    Nobody is above the Law.
    Whether an employee or an executive, a crime is a crime no matter how sophisticated it is and how cleverly it is committed.

    We should not give Financial Amnesty to these companies such as Citigroup, Countrywide, Goldman Sachs, and Merrill Lynch who engaged in financial transactions that they certainly knew would fail.

    We have the new elected President. He has been left holding others’ bags of sins, misdeeds, government oversights, wrong policies, failed and ill-represented wars that we were heralded unto in Iraq and Afghanistan, trillions of dollars in debts created in fighting these two wars for well over 8 years. Does someone even want his job?

    Our Economy is not working. The Balance Sheet looks terrible. There is nothing right on the Left side and there is nothing Left on the Right side.
    No wonder we have problems after problems. We are unable to balance the Budget

    Further the NBC 4 Los Angeles during their News broadcast mentioned that some of the city officials in Los Angeles use taxpayers’ money for their personal expenses. As it is, State of California is on a financial turmoil. Our Governor is unable to balance the budget and still trying to cut down other expenses. When we are in a financial dilemma, I don’t understand how the City Officials, the Mayor and other council members waste taxpayers’ money on unnecessary air trips and expensive restaurants.

    What does the State Controller do, who is supposed to control expenses and avoid wasteful expenditure? That is not what we see.

  • mc

    The City of Los Angeles Budget Crisis

    This Budget Crisis is nothing new. This problem has been there for a long time. It did not develop overnight and the Los Angeles City Council is aware of this.

    The cultural affairs events, parks and recreation activities need not be stopped. The City of Los Angeles can charge for using these. Let the City generate some revenue from these facilities not necessarily from Parking Meters. The Northeast Valley Animal Shelter, as well as several childcare centers whose operations are heavily subsidized with city funds can be closed. Why should the Taxpayers subsidize for these things? That is not fair.

    The Los Angeles Unified School District should stop this Free Education in all the Public Schools. They should charge for providing Education, Textbooks, Food and Recreation instead of giving them away for free. This is not 99-Cents store. Come on!

    When there is budget crisis, the government office expenses should be reduced first. The City of Los Angeles should take a serious look at their own office and cut down on nonproductive and unwanted expenses by the Mayor’s Office, Council Members and other City Employees.

    All the perks such as Free Car, Air Tickets, Expensive Restaurants, and Luxury Hotel Accommodation for the Governor, Mayor, and City Officials including LAUSD School Superintendent should be cut. They are paid well and they can spend on their own. The Taxpayers need not subsidize their expenses. The Los Angeles Public Library can also charge a reasonable fee for lending books. It does not have to be FREE.

    There are ways to make money and cut down on unnecessary expenses. LAYOFF is not an only option.