Bill Proffitt, 55, has nothing but time on his hands. He has time to cook, clean, take care of his wife, and run for the District 1 seat on the Tumwater School Board, although he acknowledges that it was a "no-money" campaign and his chances of beating the incumbent are slim.
Proffitt tries to stay busy because he hasn’t had a full-time job since October 2007, and his jobless benefits expired in September.
“You can’t let yourself dry up and blow away,” the Littlerock resident said.
Donna Dettling of Olympia, 50, a single mother with three sons, has been looking for work since May 2008. Her benefits expire in five weeks, and she’s worried that by then she won’t be able to pay rent.
“I don’t want to get to that point,” she said.
Proffitt and Dettling are among the nearly 331,000 unemployed Washington residents. A year ago, there were fewer than 200,000.
Theirs are the faces behind the numbers. They shared their stories of being down and out through no fault of their own as Congress considers whether to extend unemployment benefits for a third time since the recession began.
The Senate is expected to act this week on extending the benefits for 14 weeks, with an additional six weeks for states with unemployment rates above 8.5 percent. With an unemployment rate of 9.3 percent, Washington would qualify. The House earlier passed a less-generous version; the two bills will have to be reconciled.
The unemployed in Washington now receive up to 79 weeks of benefits.
Unless Congress acts, 1.4 million people could lose their benefits by the end of the year, including 18,000 in Washington. Meanwhile, there are no signs of a recovery in the job market.
Since late 2007, 145,000 jobs in Washington have disappeared – roughly 1 in 20. The average search for a new job in the state lasts more than six months.
“It’s been pretty much across the board,” Sheryl Hutchison of the Washington State Employment Security Department said when asked which sectors have been hit hardest. The state has lost one-quarter of its manufacturing jobs and 18 percent of its construction jobs.
One of the encouraging signs in an overall bleak economy, Hutchison said, was that the unemployment rate in Washington was not growing as rapidly as the national rate. The national unemployment rate was 9.8 percent in September.
Even so, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said during Senate debate last week that it was critical for Congress to act quickly.
“These workers are not asking for a handout; they are just asking for a small measure of support as they try to get back on their feet,” Murray said. “We cannot sit by as working families are pushed to the brink by a financial crisis they didn’t create, but are still paying for.”
Proffitt, Dettling and hundreds of other people have written to Murray, urging her to push for an extension of benefits.
Proffitt used to make $71,000 a year as a system engineer for a gaming company, but he had to leave that position after three years when he was diagnosed as having Crohn’s disease, an auto-immune disease that attacks his intestines. He later qualified for $460-a-week jobless benefits because his medical condition forced him to leave work. Today, he takes weekly and daily doses of medication to manage the disease. He also spends a lot of time looking for work.
He estimates that since becoming unemployed, he has mailed 1,500 résumés and cover letters, spending “literally thousands of dollars” to try to contact prospective employers. Although his efforts have resulted in interviews, he suspects he has been the victim of some age discrimination. After he was called in for one interview, it was explained to him that it was a two-part interview, and he never was called back for the second interview, Proffitt said.
“It makes you feel really abused,” he said.
Now that his jobless benefits are exhausted, Proffitt and his wife, Patricia, are living off savings and a check he receives from the military for his 20 years of service in the Army. He also received a small inheritance from his mother’s estate and has dipped into retirement accounts. He estimates that he has enough money to last about five more months.
“I’ve worked all my life, and I’ve been in demand for years and years, and not to be in demand is really tough,” he said. “I have to have hope, and I have to believe that something else is out there.”
Dettling, too, has applied for hundreds of jobs that have resulted in 10 to 15 interviews, she said. Her background is in office work, and she doesn’t have a college degree.
She has three sons, one of whom works at McDonald’s and sometimes helps with bills. Dettling’s weekly benefit is $292, and she also receives child support from her divorce, she said.
Unlike Proffitt, Dettling doesn’t feel her age is working against her in her job search, although “she could paper her walls with rejection letters,” she said. Still, she finds it irksome when a prospective employer doesn’t bother to respond to her application with a letter or phone call.
“The employers who don’t bother to get back to you are rude,” she said. “I just find that inexcusable.”
Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403