Day in the Life: Lon, Harriet and Marielle

Editor’s note: Leading up to Labor Day 2014, Secretary Tom Perez is traveling across the country to talk with Americans about how we can help more people succeed in the workplace and at home. Follow him along the way with live updates at

Back in March, Secretary Perez joined 15 long-term unemployed workers from the Cleveland area in a roundtable discussion about the challenges they were facing and what we can do to help. Five months later, he’s back in Cleveland to follow up with several of them.

Meet Lon, Harriet and Marielle.

Lon is a real estate professional and has been in the job market for the past 3 years. He has a bachelor’s degree and recently obtained his real estate license. He worked for the same company for 14 years but when the company relocated, he was laid off. At 53 years old, Lon wonders if his age or rate of compensation are limiting his ability to obtain full-time employment. Since meeting Secretary Perez in March, Lon’s unemployment insurance benefits have run out. Lon has some savings, but they are quickly dwindling.

Harriet is a nonprofit manager who has been out of work since February 2012. She was last employed as a program director at a local community-based organization where she helped more than 5,000 at-risk youth and young adults transition to the workforce. Harriet considers herself “underemployed,” working as a part-time substitute teacher and retail employee at a home goods store.

Marielle has an MBA in marketing, finance and international business, and has been laid off 4 times since 2007 due to no fault of her own. She now worries that her job-hopping, age and level of experience are preventing her from landing a more stable job. Marielle wants to work – and needs to work – because her husband had to close his business after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

This is the fourth of five “day in the life” visits Secretary Perez will be making this week during his travel across the country – a chance to talk directly with the people the Labor Department works for every day.

We want to make sure you see what he sees, too. Follow along for updates from his trip.

Coffee and Conversation: “We’re Not Quitting.”

Secretary Perez sat down with the three of them and several job club leaders at a local coffee shop.
Secretary Perez meets with long-term unemployed workers in a coffee shop

“When I became unemployed, everything had to change. I had to downsize my whole life and I took a big financial hit. If I have to leave and relocate, I will,” Harriett told Secretary Perez. “There are pieces of me that just keep trying and driving. I have children, I have grandchildren. I can’t quit on them.” She also said one of the biggest challenges she faces in applying for jobs is being overqualified: “I took off some education and skills [from my resume] because they won’t even consider you otherwise.”

Lon said that at this point, he needs to find a job in order to afford the essentials – food, clothing, shelter. He has three daughters, and still hopes he’ll be able to help pay for their college tuition and weddings down the road. “Part of the challenge,” he noted, “is that employers think that if they bring us on at a lower wage, we’ll jump ship as soon as we get the next opportunity – and that’s just not true. There’s more to a job than just a paycheck. There’s the enjoyment, the work-life balance.” His advice to others struggling with unemployment is to visit local job clubs and to “stick with it … you can’t just hope something comes to you, you have to work for it.”

Marielle agreed that being proactive is key and said she’s currently taking a tax preparation class to try to get a leg up. But time is running out: “I’m going through my IRA, and I don’t have many more months of savings,” she shared. “I need to close the gap.”

“Next time we meet, I want to visit you at your jobs,” Secretary Perez told them. He also shared that he encourages employers not to dismiss a job application outright because someone has 30 years’ experience or certain salary requirements: “Take a chance and people will impress you.”

Secretary Perez often says long-term unemployment is the issue that keeps him up at night − and that people like Harriett, Lon and Marielle are not quitting, so we’re not going to quit on them.

Making Progress, But More Work to Do.

There has been a lot of good economic news lately. We’ve created at least 200,000 jobs for the last six consecutive months – the first time that’s happened since 1997. Job openings are at their highest level in 13 years. Employment in professional and business services has rebounded, as it has in manufacturing. Ohio has an unemployment rate of 5.5 percent, which is below the national average and down from its peak of 10.6 percent in July 2009.

But there are still plenty of challenges before us, still too many people working harder and falling further behind. Nationwide, 3.2 million are still among the ranks of the long-term unemployed.

Since Secretary Perez visited Cleveland in March, we’ve made progress on addressing long-term unemployment.

Innovative efforts across the country are leveraging partnerships between employers, nonprofits, and the workforce training system to help “ready to work” Americans get back to work. Sometimes this requires just a modest investment to get their skills in line with the needs of local businesses – a new certificate that showcases their skills or a training course in the latest manufacturing software. To support these efforts, the Labor Department will be awarding new Ready to Work Partnership Grants in October.

We also awarded $155 million in Job-Driven National Emergency Grants this June to help fund work-based training programs − like Registered Apprenticeship and on-the-job training − to give workers the chance to develop skills while earning a paycheck.

We know that these kinds of job-driven training programs work, and that they’re often the best way to provide real ladders of opportunity. In July, the president signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. By far the most significant reform of federal job training programs in more than 15 years, the act elevates work-based learning strategies and addresses the needs of the long-term unemployed. The Labor Department, working with our federal partners and communities nationwide, will be leading the reform efforts.

Strengthening Local Partnerships.

After their conversation, Secretary Perez met with employers and community leaders at the City Club of Cleveland to talk about long-term unemployment and other issues. His message: through partnerships between business owners and employers, members of nonprofits and foundations, local government, organized labor leaders and workforce system stakeholders, we can put Americans back to work.

Ours is an economy driven by consumer demand, Secretary Perez pointed out. One way we can boost the economy is by giving working people a raise because they pump that money right back into the economy, spending it on goods and services in their communities. That helps more businesses grow, which creates more jobs. As a matter of fact, new research shows that states like Ohio that raised their minimum wages this year experienced greater job growth during the first half of 2014 than states that didn’t.

Forward-looking employers are rejecting the false choice that says you can accommodate either your shareholders or your employees, and a rising tide lifts all boats. Secretary Perez shared that some of the most successful CEOs he’s met with see their human capital as a precious asset, one they must invest in to stay competitive. Investing in workers’ skills and wages is a win-win for them and their employers. Together, we can build a stronger middle class and help people like Harriett, Lon and Marielle get back to work.

Tomorrow, Secretary Perez will wrap-up his cross-country tour in Atlanta, where he’ll meet with more workers, employers and community leaders. Get the latest on his trip here.

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Comments (2)

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  1. mark barron says:

    Dear Sec. Perez,
    With years of Construction work & storm restoration work I’m looking for a gov. Fema storm safety job , i have enormous training & experienced , with a federal Bond for empolyment ,along with working with JHowan Dennis of the One Stop work center in North Springs ,Ga …North of Atlanta , can you help…please help Sir..!!

  2. bjwalsh says:

    Thank-you for your kind words in August, 2014 telling employers “Not to dismiss
    the employee with the 30, plus years experience”! I live in North Carolina in an area where there are just “no jobs”. I needed to be working at 70 years of age, but I would now settle for an additional 6 to get me to retirement age with a decent social security benefit (since I’ve had to dip into my retirement to survive). I, too worked in the Human Resources/Payroll field for over 30 years when our business closed its’ doors. Most job applications will not even allow you to go back to your birth year. In my case 1953 – so do not tell me the older workers are not discriminated against! Also, just finished two years of college & still cannot even land an interview, much less a job!

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