Post-Sandy, Newly Unemployed Struggle To Stay Afloat | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
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Post-Sandy, Newly Unemployed Struggle To Stay Afloat

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Hurricane Sandy's effect on the nation's unemployment figures was less pronounced than expected. The reasons are complex, but one thing is clear: Thousands of victims are still struggling to rebuild their lives and get back to work.

Danielle Siekierski was tending bar at a restaurant in Manhattan's Meatpacking District before Sandy hit. When the restaurant was damaged in the storm, the workers were told it might be a week before it reopened.

Two weeks later, it closed for good. Siekierski says the restaurant's finances were already shaky, and Sandy was the nail in the coffin.

'It's Beating Me Down'

Now Siekierski is on the hunt for work. Every day she gets up, goes on the Internet and sends out resumes — often applying for 10 or 20 jobs in a day. She's had no luck, she says, and "it's beating me down."

She tries to go to several interviews a day, but that has also been discouraging. At her most recent interview, there were 30 people in the room when she arrived. Knowing the window for interviews was short, Siekierski left. "I know that by the time I get in there and I wait, they will cut it off at [7 p.m.] and no one is going to even speak with me," she says.

Siekierski has applied for unemployment insurance through funds targeted for people laid off because of the storm. The money hasn't come through yet, but it will be only a drop in the bucket when it does. "It's $180," Siekierski says. "I live in downtown. $1,300 rent. That doesn't cover it."

Manhattan, where Siekierski lives, seems much recovered on the surface. But near the JFK airport over in Howard Beach, Queens, the effects of Sandy are still visible everywhere. There are Dumpsters filled with Sheetrock and stacks of broken wood in front of many houses.

One Week Becomes Six

Erin Kulick, a veterinarian, chose to work at the Howard Beach Animal Clinic because she loved the people — but also because the clinic is very close to her home. Pointing it out from her balcony, she notes its missing siding.

At first, Kulick, less than three years out of vet school, was optimistic after the storm. Staff cleaned up the clinic and ferried animals to heated shelters nearby. The head of the clinic told the staff to take a week or two off, but two weeks later, the power was still out.

"There was no way you could practice," Kulick says, "And you were starting to get mold issues." At three weeks, her situation was getting dire. "I just couldn't afford to be unemployed that long," she says.

The clinic's owner is trying to get it back up and running, but Kulick says all five associate veterinarians have their resumes out. Kulick was lucky, as she and her husband had some savings and she is getting unemployment insurance.

But the couple had to spend their savings to replace their cars, both destroyed in the storm. Finding a rental car in the interim took days, and having to care for their dog made things even more difficult.

An Uncertain Holiday Season

But "cars are nothing," Kulick says. "Job uncertainty sucks." On the flip side, she says, her neighbors have been great. "I have never been so close to my community."

And yet, there are moments when Kulick feels survivor's guilt. "So many people have it worse," she says. "There are still people with no heat."

Both Siekierski and Kulick have family out of state, but neither is sure she will make it home for Christmas. "I've never missed a Christmas, but I feel I can't really leave," Siekierski says. "Because if I do, how can I start a job?"

Various government agencies have their own yardsticks to measure Sandy's impact on employment. But the personal stories are many — and they are not going away.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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