Face of jobless changing

Monday, October 15, 2001

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Chris Mirabello brought a book, a Pepsi, a bag of snacks and his humility to the unemployment office, not knowing what to expect.

Mirabello, 30, was laid off in August from his $52,000-a-year job at a telecommunications company and his severance pay had just run out.

He was not too upset when he got the bad news at work. His wife has a government job, and the time off was incentive to pursue production work on small, independent films and to do some creative writing.

But when calls did not follow the resumes sent to employers, he started to worry.

"I've never had a problem getting an interview before -- until now," he said. "It's been surprisingly hard. It's really an employer's market now."

Mirabello was one of several dozen people who filled a large waiting room at the Virginia Employment Center in Alexandria one day last week. The unemployed this day included professionals, dot-comers, laborers, immigrants, women, men, Generation Xers and baby boomers.

The nation's unemployment rate was at a four-year high of 4.9 percent in September, and economists expect it to surge in the coming months as layoffs from the terrorist attacks start to register. The aviation industry alone has announced more than 100,000 layoffs.

Amor Paraoan, 35, was a banquet manager at a Holiday Inn in Alexandria, where he had worked for nine years -- until last week.

"It was a shock," he said. The attacks destroyed business at the hotel. He hopes to get recalled. He has two children and a wife to help support.

"She works, but it's not going to cover the mortgage," he said. "We'll see what happens."

Rows of tables and chairs filled the large waiting room. American flags were taped to the computers used to process claims. Several people brought books to read. A group of women sat together, talking in Spanish. Most just quietly filled out several pages of forms and waited to be called.

Impact of attacks

"I heard it takes a long time," Mirabello said of the wait. A friend was there four hours the day before.

Some paperwork required shading in circles with a No. 2 pencil, a time-consuming task. The questions were detailed: What was the lowest hourly pay you would accept?

"I'll accept anything at this point," Mirabello said.

Even flipping burgers? Not quite. "I could wait tables. I've done it before," he said. "If it comes down to it I could do it again."

Nuwaira Ibrahim's rent is due and she cannot pay it. Her husband, a taxi driver at Reagan National Airport, which reopened recently with limited flights, filed for unemployment last week and will receive $108 a week. Last week it was her turn. They have three children. "We didn't see these kinds of crises before September 11th," said Ibrahim, 37, her eyes red and puffy. "It was going OK, but not now. I can't sleep. My eyes are burning."

She just completed her course work to be a pharmacy technician and will take the exam next month. With her husband struggling even to pay the rent on his taxi income, she needs to work now. But she cannot find a job.

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