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Unions for the Jobless: Unemployed People Find Solidarity Online

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When Charlene Troyer of Chicago, Illinois, was laid off from her job as an environmental manager for a garbage collection company in November 2009, she felt like there weren't many people she could turn to for moral support. Her parents had never been unemployed and all four of her grandparents had kept their jobs through the Great Depression.

"This was a whole new territory for them," she told HuffPost. "One set of grandparents were self-employed farmers, and the other side worked for the postal service, so they never saw any job loss. They thought people who were unemployed had issues because of something they had done. They had no concept of a bad economy."

After several months of missing mortgage payments, trying to support three children on a $450-a-week unemployment check and watching her credit become ruined beyond repair, she says she decided to look for support groups online.

"The depression just gets so bad," she told HuffPost. "You look at the stack of bills and decide what the heck you're gonna pay and how the heck you're gonna afford food. My self confidence and dignity have been compromised.  I have failed my obligations to support my family and provide for them. It helps to talk to people who are going through the same thing."

Troyer says she found a Facebook organization called "Extend Unemployment Benefits", where jobless people from across the country gather to offer support and advice to each other, discuss the latest in unemployment news, and rally together to petition Congress to extend unemployment benefits. One active group member, Brian Yeagle, uses the site regularly to motivate other unemployed people to vote and call their senators.

"I have been on the phone for the last 3 hours straight calling Senator's offices, pushing the message Tier 5 to Survive!!" Yeagle wrote on the page Monday. "Please continue to call, email, and fax today and everyday, this is the only way we are gonna make this work.... Please don't give up now!!"

Other members use the site as a venue to creatively express their frustrations.

"How am I to stand up and enjoy the pride of being a father who cannot provide?" Lance Sievert wrote on the group discussion board. "My head has fallen, my eyes are cast downward. Where is the man that not so long ago could hold his head high, whose blue eyes were framed in an uplifted brow and who walked with a spring and urgency? He was not real? He was only so as is given by the contentness (sic) and security of being employed."

A number of support groups for the unemployed have sprung up online since 2008, reflecting a strong need for solidarity and commiseration among the jobless during this excruciatingly drawn-out period of high U.S. unemployment. On Unemployed-Friends.com, administrators post information about pending legislation for benefits and job creation, employment networking, job opportunities and schooling grants. On JoblessJoe.com, a more discussion based online community, people can share their personal unemployment stories, ask for feedback on their resumés and find money-saving tips from others in a tight financial situation.

For some users, like Troyer, the sense of community in these online support groups is so strong that they are staying active on the sites long after they become re-employed. Troyer, who finally found a job in July making about $17,000 less than she was making in her previous job, said she continues to offer support and advice to people on the "Extend Unemployment Benefits" Facebook page because it gives her a sense of purpose, even though her own financial situation has improved.

"When people have interviews, I cheer them on and give them advice as far as how to answer questions. It helps me to respond to other people because I can see they're in worse shape than I am," she said. "Helping them helps me."

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