Out of work for eight months, Carol Murchie sought a novel escape from unemployment: elected office.
Murchie, 54, lost her job as an archivist for a sports equipment maker in April of 2011. This year, she became a candidate for a part-time position with the city of Fairhaven, Mass.
"In this bad economy, I finally thought maybe politics was a way to go because I've tried everything else," Murchie said.
In January, she took out nominating papers and began collecting signatures so she could run for tree warden in Fairhaven, a town of 15,000 on the Bay State's southeastern edge. The town's website says the job involves clearing diseased and dying trees as well as planting new ones throughout town.
Murchie, who has a degree in library science, has found herself in a trap familiar to many other older unemployed workers, who are much more likely than their younger counterparts to be unemployed for long periods of time. "I am too educated and experienced for many jobs, too old and not specifically trained in some of the newer industries, and have no money to return to school," she said in an email. "I have never married nor had children (by choice), so my familial safety net is nearly non-existent."
If employers wouldn't give her a fair shot, Murchie figured she'd see if voters would instead. Murchie's campaign emphasized more notice before tree removal and re-establishing a citizen tree committee. She knew it wouldn't be easy to win. Her opponent, Antone Medeiros, has held the part-time position for more than 20 years. And he had plenty of expertise in the job, as voters may have learned during a candidates' forum in March.
"Ms. Murchie was asked if she knows how to use a chain saw, bucket truck or chipper," wrote a reporter for a local paper in a story about the event. "She admitted she would have a 'steep learning curve' learning to drive the truck. Ms. Murchie said she would hire workers to do emergency work, but added she has been learning the standards for pruning and trimming."
Alas, Murchie's plan didn't work out. She lost the election, receiving 736 votes to Medeiros' 1,857.
She said she's behind on her rent and is juggling bills, and is worried what she'll do when her unemployment insurance runs out later this year. The tree job, she said, would have paid as much as $500 a month. Before the election, Murchie said she didn't know what she'd do if she lost, but afterward she said she'd simply have to keep trying.
"I've reinvented myself a few times," she said. "I've got 15 to 20 years left in me as long as I don't go soft as a grape."