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Help Wanted: Revisiting the uncounted millions

Help Wanted is our new series dedicated to exploring America’s jobs crisis. It will continue on the first Friday of every month through Election Day 2012 to coincide with the jobs report.

There’s a good deal of (justified) celebration over this week’s economic news.  The unemployment rate has finally started moving downwards, dropping to 8.6% this week — lower than it’s been in years.

But amidst the good news, Need to Know examines a different metric of America’s economy:  the deep sense of uncertainty and fear that many employed workers feel today.  There’s no official “uncertainty measure,” no way to quantify their experiences, but it’s clear that millions of American workers are watching nervously as their world shift beneath them. Whether it’s their salary, their benefits, or their job security, the life many people thought they knew has fundamentally changed.

Two months ago, correspondent John Larson and I traveled to Cuyahoga County in northeastern Ohio to visit with four of these middle-class workers. We met Lee Anne Chambers, a veteran public school teacher who’d been laid off last year and then re-hired this year, but at half her former salary and with none of the benefits.  We met Michael and Maia Ballard, a husband and wife team who’re starting an electrical contracting company, and struggling to raise enough capital to grow their business.  And we met Clyde Wilson, a former manufacturing worker who spent over a year and a half out of work, only to land a new, temporary job that paid less that he used to make and offered no benefits.  These are people who don’t show up in any official government reports, but we’d argue that their experience making ends meet in today’s economy is as revealing as any official data.

Three weeks ago, we went back to Ohio to see how these four are doing, and we found some dramatic developments.  Some were faced with wrenching choices:  Would you take time off work to care for a dying grandmother, even if it jeopardized your much-needed health care benefits?  In order to pay a looming property tax bill, would you be willing to sell a beloved family pet?  These are just a few of the kinds of dilemmas facing middle-class workers all over the country today.  So while we may take some comfort in today’s unemployment data, it’s worth listening to the stories of these people’s lives to see a fuller picture of today’s economy.

Help Wanted: The uncounted millions

Watch the rest of the segments from this episode.



  • Llmulka

    The article mentioned that Lee Anne Chambers’ husband had a stroke in 2006, and I assume that he has been unable to work since then.  He may well be able to obtain social security disability benefits and Medicaid and/or Medicare insurance benefits. 

  • Guest

    These people are amazing heroes and their dignity and strength are an inspiration!  Please stop using the term “Middle Class”. These workers have been abused and placed in the lower class.  Please do not perpetuate a harmful myth that we all need to recognize & understand in order to.overcome.

  • G. Gerber

    This was a powerful segment. It is rare to see common middle class people and their struggles depicted so realistically.

  • Anonymous

    America has been thriving on cheap or even unpaid labor since its inception. The Civil War took away its slaves, but in its aftermath America took them back as “Ns”. The Civil Rights era took away its “Ns”, as Nixon took advantage of resentment against the loss, but offered no real alternative to the faction of America at war with its labor force. It was Reagan who began the restoration of America’s “Ns”. His solution? Make us all “Ns”. And until working Whites recognize that we are all “Ns” now we will all suffer the same reduction of work to something more and more proximal to indenture, if not chattle slavery. I understand that Blacks are still mistreated in ways atrociously worse than whites, even when they can get a job, and I hope they will not take offense at my use of the “N” word, but the enormity of what is being undertaken by America’s employer and financial sectors is simply not expressed by any term less offensive than that. Baynor says that America’s job creators are out on strike. This is true by another word. It is not a strike. It is a lockout.

  • David Chase

    And THAT will pay their bills???

  • Ulsterfield

    I am so glad PBS ran this story — and am so tired of ignorant, ivory-tower types claiming that “the unemployed are simply lazy.” We can only hope that people who say this lose their jobs so that others (such as the people in this video, who truly deserve the work) can get those jobs.  

  • Raymond Davis

    The REAL discriminated class is the poor. The wealthy and corporations use the government and lobbiyists to  turn one faction of the poor against another and as they turn one on another the rich feed off of the poor . How amazing is it that just now people are FINALLY realizing that 1% of our population owns almost 90% of all income?

  • Flhxrider

    Its a shame that obama, pelosi, and reid, wasted their super majority in Congress on a health care bill that is going to be dismantled at the taxpayers expense. The story fails to point out that budgets are bankrupt do to the majority of the Democratic base is now living off the free handouts and can no longer afford to pay its workers any more. Simple math here not a difficult problem, cut off the hand outs, and pay the workers.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, those freeloaders
    ought to get off the dole! Like the airlines, the pharmaceuticals, the banks,
    the oil companies…,

    The author of the latest post might profit from reading
    Larry Bartels’ “Unequal Democracy”. This
    book proves beyond any reasonable doubts that Democratic policies have
    benefit the overall economy while Republican policies injure it, though leaving
    the wealthy wealthier. What emerges from it is that Obama, whether by intention or by the
    vicissitudes of the times, has been pursuing economic policies that Republicans
    favor, but that tend to assure a recovery timed perfectly to improve his chances
    of reelection, whereas Democratic presidents have, heretofore, been in a
    position to pursue policies that better the economy for the majority but that have the effect of
    producing a slump in the reelection year. Recent economic news bodes well for an
    Obama second term.

  • AnnS

    He will NOT qualify for Medicaid. The household income has to be below 133% Federal Poverty level – around LESS than $19500 for 2 people.

    He can apply for Soc Sec disability but only if he can not work at all – even if it is jsut running a cash register.   It will 2 -4 years for his claim to be processed.  Thne he does not get Medicare until 2 years after the date his disability began. 

    The AVERAGE Soc Sec disability is $900 a month.

    He has to pay the all the Medicare premiums and costs. Their income at $28,000 is too high for help with the premiums.

    Medicare premiums will, as of Jan 1, cost him this:  $99 per month for Part B (Doctors, office visits, physical therapy etc.)   and $30 -70 a month for a Part D prescription plan.  (odds are it will be higher to get the drugs he needs – lower cost plans do not cover squat and make it hard to to get the needed drugs with restrictions like prior authorization, step therapy etc.) 

    And since they are in Ohio and he is under 65, he can NOT buy a Medigap plan to help with the Part A (hospitalization) and Part B deductibles and copays.  (No Medigap plan in Ohio will cover Medicare enrolles under age 65 ie: those who are disabled.)    Part A deductible is $1200.   Part B deductible is $140 in 2012. The killer are the Part B copays – a flat 20% of all medical expenses without any limit.  The prescription  plan copays for the more expensive and brand drugs easily blow past $50 per prescription and carry around a $300 deductible and he will hit the ‘gap’ in coverage and they will have to come up with another $3000+ ..

    At $900 a month Soc Sec disability, the cost of Medicare will easily eat up $730 a month (4 prescriptions copays + deductibles only + drug ‘gap’ + premiums)  — leaving a grand total of $170.

    Obviously this poster is totally ignorant of (1)  how expensive Medicare is for those who actually need care (2) how poor you have to be to get Medicaid and (c) how little Soc Sec disability really is. .

  • Tameekas

    Welfare, stamps obamas said hees was being givin us a rase in stamps in sheet.