As part of our Bearing Witness 2.0 project, the Huffington Post is rounding up compelling local stories about the victims of the recession.
A 72-year old man spent so much time on hold with a state unemployment agency trying to claim his benefits that he racked up a $700 cell phone bill, reports Jeremy Joyola of Eyewitness News 4 in Albuquerque.
Ernie Sanchez called the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, a government-run unemployment relief agency over a thousand times trying to get his unemployment money to cover his basic needs, but could not seem to get through. Now, he told Joyola, he has to use almost all of the benefits to pay his Verizon bill.
"It's almost the same amount for two weeks of benefits that I was trying to get," Sanchez said.
Joyola writes: "The bill shows Sanchez made 1,114 calls to the unemployment office in one month. Some days, it took hundreds of calls to get through -- each call costing $0.45. When he would get through, he says he would be put on hold. One time, he was on hold for almost 3 1/2 hours."
That one phone call cost Sanchez nearly $100, the article reports..
"I feel cheated in some way," Sanchez said.
After losing his six-figure management job due to the economy, a father of three found himself bagging groceries at a Publix supermarket in Land O'Lakes, Florida, reports Michael Kruse at the St. Petersburg Times.
Don Gould, 42, has an MBA and 22 years of work experience, but he current makes $8.25 an hour as a "front service clerk" at Publix, the same thing he did for pocket money as a teenager.
"I used to be a big shot," he told Kruse. "Now I'm just, 'Hey, bag boy.'"
Despite having taken a major cut in pay and respect, Gould told the paper that he preferred to do just about anything than sit around the house, jobless. Kruse writes:
"Instead of sitting at home, he said, all woe-is-me and constantly clicking refresh on CareerBuilder.com, he decided to work in the meantime, anywhere, doing anything. Not every executive out of a job makes that choice. They climb society's rungs, latch onto a level of prestige, and won't let go."
Gould says he wanted to teach his sons that no job is undignified, and they seem to have gotten the message.
"I grew up pretty privileged," Gould's son Clark told Kruse on the phone from Tallahassee, where he's now a college freshman. "He showed me that he's not better than that, and I'm not better than that."
Kendell Woolridge used to spend his days in an oversized bear costume as the mascot for the Newark Bears baseball team. It was a great gig, reports Barry Carter of the Star-Ledger, because the stadium was also Woolridge's home. He took care of the clubhouse, washed the players' uniforms, and then crashed in an office overnight.
But in 2007 when the baseball team changed ownership, Woolridge was laid off from his job and forced to bounce from one friend's house to another, holding down jobs at ShopRite, then Walgreens, but never making enough, he says, to be stable. Last week, Woolridge's luck ran out, and he found himself sleeping at Penn Station in Newark, officially homeless for the first time in his life.
"I'm 23," he told Carter. "I'm not supposed to be homeless. I shouldn't be living like this."
HuffPost readers: Seen a compelling local story? Have a neighbor going to bizarre lengths to get through the recession? Tell us about it! Email Lbassett@huffingtonpost.com.
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