Out of Work, Trying Not to Run Out of Luck

For the first time in his life Michael Schumacker, a carpenter in Mays, N.J., says he does not know where he is going to come up with enough money to properly feed his six children.

He's been the victim of layoffs several times and is struggling to live on unemployment benefits.

"At times I feel like I've failed my kids," Schumacker says. "I keep pushing and pushing and pushing and nothing comes back to us. It's just like we're running out of answers we really are."

He says he faxes resumes daily and has tried everything to get back to work as a carpenter.

"You've got a 4-year-old that's jumping up and down waiting for Santa ... and what's going to happen Christmas morning when there's nothing there," Schumacker says.

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His wife Darlene says she can not always afford diapers.

Schumacker is one of about 4 million Americans collecting unemployment benefits, the highest number in a quarter century. First the housing industry was hit. Then came Wall street. Blue and white collar jobs alike are being slashed faster than you can say pink slip.

"It's already been incredibly hard to find a job," says Andrew Stettner of the National Employment Law Project. "Now you see, you know, kind of a record level, stunning increases in layoffs."

At least eight companies announced job cuts this week alone, including Citigroup, with one of the largest payroll scale-backs in history, along with Boeing, Bank of New York Mellon, The Associated Press and Pepsi, among others.

President Bush just signed into law a bill that will keep unemployment checks flowing through the holiday season, but states are still struggling to replenish their dwindling unemployment accounts. They're imposing higher taxes on employers and starting to reduce benefits.

"We're going to have to think more creatively about the kind of the assistance that we need, we're going to think more creatively and more aggressively about how the government can help stimulate the economy," Stettner says.

While President-elect Obama has announced plans to stimulate the economy by creating more jobs, right now nearly every single sector is losing them. Particularly vulnerable sectors are retail and manufacturing, as well as any part of the economy dependent on consumer spending.

Areas that tend to be more insulated include federal government employment, education and health services.

But employment advisors say no employee is safe.

"You really have to try to protect yourself," says Dale Winston, CEO of Battalia Winston, an employment firm. "This isn't the time you take a vacation, this isn't the time you make yourself invisible. This is a period of time when you work harder than you've even worked in your life. Make yourself indispensable."

If you do get laid off, advisors say don't let a moment go by. Snap right back into job seeking mode. The longer you stay out, the more difficult it's going to get.

Michael Schumacher says that's exactly what he tried to do, but it has not worked yet.

He was just forced to use the money he saved for his children's Christmas presents on his car payment so it wouldn't get repossessed.