WASHINGTON -- Every weeknight Bridget Krueger and her husband catch up with an 8 p.m. phone call because his new job is far away and he works long hours, so he has to spend the night in a hotel.
"It's almost like being a single parent during the week," Krueger, 46, said in an interview. But it's better now than it was before, when her husband, Brian, was out of work. "Sometimes you have to do what you have to do."
Since May, Brian Krueger, 48, has been working as a steamfitter at a power plant in Nelson, Illinois, about two hours from his home in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. He drives out on Monday, works five or six 10-hour shifts, and heads home on Friday or Saturday.
"I get to see my family maybe one or two days of the week," he said. "It's tough."
When Krueger got this job, he escaped a nasty brush with longterm unemployment. The Labor Department announced Friday morning that the number of longterm jobless has dwindled to 2.8 million, nearly 1 million fewer than a year ago. Economists have been debating whether the decline in longterm unemployment reflects improving job prospects for the jobless or simply fewer of them seeking work, since people who don't look don't count as officially unemployed. Either way, the decline is part of a happy story about the economy -- the national unemployment rate stood at 5.7 percent in January, down from 6.6 percent a year ago.
Krueger had been unemployed for about a year before getting this job. About halfway through his unemployment spell, in December 2013, his benefits stopped. He would have been eligible for another six months of checks, but Congress declined to renew federal longterm benefits. Last January his congressman, Rep. Mark Pocan (D), invited him to attend the president's State of the Union address as part of a Democratic effort to dramatize the plight of the jobless.
Republicans favored cutting the benefits, and some conservatives have claimed the cutoff helped spur the economy, but in Krueger's case only hardship ensued. His family went on food stamps, struggled to pay bills, and feared foreclosure. Now that he's back to working, Krueger doesn't see himself as part of the happy story.
"It's just a coincidence that I have work," he said. "If the economy was better, I would have been working a lot sooner."
Still, he and his wife are much happier now that they're both working again, even though his job ends in the spring. (She works as a branch manager of a bank.)
"It's way better," Brian Krueger said. "We paid off a majority of our bills, we’ve been able to save a lot of money so when the job down here does end in the middle of April, we’ll have at least a cushion of savings."
The power plant had been abandoned for years before its current owner got its financing together to restart the project. One of its previous owners had been a subsidiary of Enron.
"We got one of the boilers started and we’re working on the second one, it should be going in a couple of months," Krueger said. "We're almost done with the project."
Krueger said he's not confident he'll have an easy time finding another job, but he said he was looking forward to heading home early on Friday so he could see his son's basketball game.