CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As a lawyer, city councilmember, and former mayor, Jill Duson figured she would not be unemployed for long when she lost her job as director of Portland, Maine's Department of Rehabilitative Services following a change of administration in January 2011.
She was wrong: Duson spent six months unemployed before taking a part-time seasonal sales job at L.L. Bean.
"I've experienced the meltdown of this economy," Duson, 58, said in an interview next to a melting ice sculpture outside the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday. The 2,000-pound sculpture, a project by artists Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese, had spelled "MIDDLE CLASS," but "CLA" was all that remained after three hours in the Carolina sun. (The artists crafted a similar sculpture last week for the Republican convention in Tampa, Fla.)
Melting ice is an apt metaphor for the middle class. Pew surveys and economic data have shown the middle class is smaller, poorer, and less optimistic than ever.
Workers in their 50s are less likely than the overall working population to be unemployed, but more likely to experience prolonged unemployment if they do get laid off -- even if they have advanced degrees.
Duson got educated, married, and had saved money. She said the repercussions of losing one job seemed too severe.
"I was first-generation out of poverty and it didn't take much to push me back," she said. "I've done what I thought I was supposed to do."
Now she's doing what she can. In addition to her retail job and position on the Portland City Council (which she said pays a $5,000 annual stipend), Duson said she's picked up another part-time gig as a city agency's compliance manager.
"Between those three jobs, I will make just about half of what I made before," Duson said.
No wonder: While the Great Recession destroyed many decent-paying jobs, the recovery has mainly added low-paying ones, according to the National Employment Law Project. And most of the people who became re-employed after losing jobs during the recession are earning less than they used to, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Duson and her son, Nathan Davis, a 20-year-old college student, are both delegates to the Democratic National Convention and strong supporters of President Barack Obama. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has contended that Obama can't tell voters they're better off than they were four years ago. HuffPost asked Duson if she's better off.
"Certainly not financially," Duson said. "But in terms of feeling my government is going in the right direction, yes."
Duson has directly benefited from the Obama administration's policies. She was one of the few beneficiaries of the short-lived Emergency Homeowner Loan Program, which offered forgivable loans to homeowners who suffer dramatic reductions in income. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives voted to repeal the program.
"We would have lost our house," Duson said.