Who Gives The Long-Term Jobless A Helping Hand?

Dec 21, 2011
Originally published on December 21, 2011 9:15 pm

More than 40 percent of the long-term unemployed say they've received a lot of help from family and friends. But only 1 in 10 reports getting much help from churches or community groups, according to an NPR/Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

While family may be the first stop for help, these groups say they're indeed seeing large numbers of people who have been out of work a long time.

'We're Overwhelmed Now'

The vast majority of those polled — about 70 percent — say they've received no help from nonprofits or community groups. Liz Hamel with the Kaiser Family Foundation says there are a several reasons. Some may not know resources are available, and others want help that nonprofits may not provide.

"So they may be looking for specific job placement services or help with job training and may be having difficulty finding that in their local community," Hamel says.

But as friends and family get tapped out, community and church organizations say the long-term unemployed do turn to them.

Darlene Duke, the director of the Christian Aid Mission Partnership in Austell, Ga., just west of Atlanta, sees 1,000 to 1,200 families every month — about twice the number she saw before the recession hit.

"Knowing what the unemployment rate is and that few people say they're getting help from nonprofit organizations, I would be just be amazed to know if there were still yet 90 percent of folks out there to come to me because we're overwhelmed now," Duke says.

CAMP's waiting room is filled with families and the elderly applying for aid or picking up food. The unemployment rate in Georgia is around 10 percent, but in this area, it's higher, and it's a challenge to find a good-paying job.

Alma George, a single mother, was laid off in 2008 from her job in retail design. It paid about $40,000 a year. She now works part time at CAMP helping others apply for aid. "I've come across gentlemen that have always been the only provider that have come to me in tears," George says. "They say, 'What do I do? I'm so ashamed. I'm embarrassed,' " she says.

And George says her own life has changed dramatically. Her church is helping make her house payment, and she has little money for extras, like a church camp her son wanted to attend in nearby Villa Rica, Ga. Nor does she have have the gas money to get him there.

The gas "has to take me back and forth to work and take us to church on Sundays. There's not enough gas to take [him] to Villa Rica," she says through tears. "But I've seen a lot more cases that are worse off than me."

'Every Little Piece'

Across town in the more affluent Atlanta suburb of Sandy Springs, people line up at a food pantry to get fresh bread, vegetables and whatever meat is available. Many don't know the Community Action Center is here unless they are referred, says Tamara Carrera, the executive director.

"The poverty here is not so obvious because you don't see people with scruffy clothes and half-naked with no shoes or whatever, but they're barely making it," Carrera says.

The center has helped about 5,000 people this year with rental assistance, utilities, clothing and food. Among those in line is a young couple. Heather Ochsner says she is disabled with a neurological disorder and her boyfriend, Matthew Prince, is underemployed.

"I have three part-time jobs that I'm just trying to string together enough for us both to survive," Prince says. He says he was working full time as a security guard and then for a deli until his hours were cut.

"You see all kinds of people from all walks of life. It's not just typical people you would think of being impoverished, like, everybody needs the help. Every little piece they can get," Prince says.

"There are days like today when we have $20 to our name, and we can't get any food and we can come here and we know we're going to be able to eat tonight and that's a huge deal," Ochsner says.

This couple had to turn to community groups for help because Prince says he can't find one good, full-time job.

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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.


And I'm Robert Siegel. In North Korea today, thousands of mourners trudged through snow in Pyongyang to pay their last respects. Their dear leader, Kim Jong Il, died from a sudden heart attack over the weekend and control of the country quickly passed to his son, Kim Jong Un.

Meanwhile, to the south, defectors continued to celebrate the dictator's death and, as NPR's Louisa Lim reports, they are trying to kick start a jasmine revolution across the border.


LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: With military music blaring, a green jeep pulls up in the car park. Women in matching camouflage fatigues, dark glasses and lipstick leap out. All are North Korean defectors. They've come to Imjinggak near the DMZ for a celebration.

PARK SANG-HAK: (Foreign Language Spoken).

LIM: We welcome the miserable death of dictator Kim Jong Il, the activists shout. They're led by Park Sang-hak, a prominent defector. Earlier this year, an assassination attempt against him was foiled when a North Korean spy was caught with poison-tipped needles.

Today, Park criticized the international communities' emphasis on a peaceful transition.

SANG-HAK: (Through Translator) The U.S. and China say North Korea has to stay stable. For 60 years, people have suffered under the world's worst dictatorship. Now is the perfect opportunity for them to win their freedom. How can you keep watching such suffering for the next few decades?

LIM: There are now more than 20,000 defectors in South Korea. Today, 30 groups were represented here. They believe that Kim Jong Il's sudden death has opened a window of opportunity that should be exploited.

Son Jeong-hun, one of the rally organizers, predicts that conflict among North Korea's elite factions could break out early next year.

SON JEONG-HUN: (Through Translator) As far as I know, there are a few progressive commanders in the North Korean Army who want to change the situation there. In my opinion, Kim Jong Un's lack of experience means he doesn't have the power to control party members in their 50s and 60s.

LIM: That may be wishful thinking. So far, the succession appears to be going smoothly with many analysts believing the army has pledged its loyalty to a collective leadership around Kim Jong Un. But Pyongyang is not taking any chances. Today, it put troops on alert.

Shin Ju-hyun is the chief editor of the Daily NK Website, which has contacts inside the north. He says draconian security measures have been put in place inside North Korea.

SHIN JU-HYUN: (Through Translator) Groups of more than five North Koreans are not allowed to gather together and armed policemen are stationed every 100 meters in every street. They also limit the number of people in every alley.

LIM: But, at night, you can hear - it's helium being pumped into these enormous 30 foot high balloons and the balloons are printed with slogans like, let's end three generations of dictatorship, and they're about to be released across the border into North Korea. Each of these balloons is carrying thousands of propaganda leaflets.

With more slogan shouting, the balloons and leaflets are launched. The leaflets list the Kim family's excesses. They also provide descriptions of the Arab Spring. The act of releasing these balloons seems largely a symbolic gesture, but defector Hahn Il-seong disagrees.

HAHN IL-SEONG: (Through Translator) These are enormously helpful. The North Koreans are told that South Korea poisons these leaflets and they're not allowed to touch them, but sometimes, we put pictures of defectors in these leaflets and one of my nephews inside the north told me he actually saw my picture this way and knew I was living in the south.


LIM: These balloon launches have unsettled the south, as well. Its national intelligence service urged the defectors to cancel today's launch for fear of antagonizing Pyongyang at a time of mourning. But they refused to back down. Antagonizing Pyongyang and causing strains to emerge is exactly what they want.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Seoul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.