Stocks Rally After Jobs Report Announces First Drop in Unemployment Rate This Year

Difficult Job Search and Government Financial Assistance

When Brian and Theresa Quick of Virginia Beach, Va., went to the local social services office recently to apply for the program, they were told that with her $1,500 monthly income from a part-time job as a bookkeeper and his unemployment check, they made too much.

"I can tell you right now that the people coming in and out of there in the four hours I've been there, they drive better cars than me but they can buy food with food stamps," said Brian Quick, who was laid off from his job as a warehouse manager in November.

Social services, instead, directed them to a local church, where they received a free bag of groceries. Aside from that, the family has not qualified for other government assistance, meaning further sacrifices for the couple and their two young daughters.

"They kind of understand," Quick, 50, who now works part-time as a security officer, said of his children, who are 5 and 6. "They say that if we need money, we can take it out of their piggy banks."

The family's car was almost repossessed and Theresa Quick, 43, has twice pawned her wedding ring -- the second time, the couple couldn't come up with the money to get it back.

The Quicks are far from alone. Financial setbacks have also had tangible effects on Joy O'Campo's day-to-day life.

O'Campo, 34, worked in human resources for 10 years before she was laid off from her last job in March 2008. Although she has found a job as a benefits administration analyst at a temporary agency, which offers no benefits or vacation days, her home state of California says her income's too high to qualify for food stamps, state sponsored health care and other assistance programs.

"Where's the help for people stuck in the middle?" said O'Campo, who took a $20,000 pay cut and moved to a less expensive apartment. "I'm not a homeowner but I'm not so poor that I qualify for existing government help."

O'Campo, who lives in Irvine, Calif., and has a master's degree in public administration, is even considering filing for bankruptcy because she is unable to pay back the credit card debt she accrued while unemployed.

"Being out of work for nine months, I used my credit cards quite a lot," she said. "Who can live on unemployment in Orange County?"

Unemployed High in Debt and Cut Spending

Hard times have limited O'Campo to a $40 to $45 weekly grocery budget that is half of what she was used to spend. She said she's lucky to have generous friends who paid for her medical insurance for nine months, but O'Campo has since dropped out of the federal COBRA program that gives some employees the ability to continue health insurance coverage after leaving employment.

Gas costs keep her from going out with friends and volunteering with the Big Brothers-Big Sisters program. The hardest part for her was cutting back on martial arts training, which she said kept her emotionally and physically healthy.

She said she's looking "everywhere, everyday" for a steady job.

"I've done a lot of recruiting being in HR, I know that people look at my skill set and education and they know I'm going to expect a lot of money, a permanent job and benefits, but once the economy turns around, I'd want to find something better," she said. "That is my goal and that's what I would be thinking, too, if I saw my resume. It's like a Catch-22."

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