Patty in the News

Judy Curtis likes to work. She has always worked. Being out of work has been one tough and terrible job.

“I never leaned on anybody,” she said. “I’ve always been able to take care of myself and my kids. And here I am.”

Where is she?

When we spoke Friday, Curtis was at home in Mill Creek. The 65-year-old has been job hunting since July.

That’s when she lost her office position at Congregation Kol Ami, a Woodinville synagogue. She found that job after being laid off by the Boeing Co. in 2009. At Boeing, Curtis said she was an upper-level administrative assistant.

“I don’t like not working,” she said. “I’m miserable at home right now. I’m an organized person and a good employee.”

She is also a devoted mother. Divorced in the early 1980s, Curtis raised a daughter and a son. Her daughter, who lives in Everett, is married with two children. Her son Sean, 38, is developmentally disabled and lives with Curtis.

Five days a week, he takes buses to the Northwest Center in south Seattle. He has a part-time job with the organization, which serves people who have developmental disabilities. Until March, he had worked 18 years for Home Depot.

“He has always done pretty well,” said Curtis, explaining that Sean has a lower than average IQ and was in special education. “At Home Depot, he was moving carts and helping customers. He did some janitorial work. When he was let go in March, he was devastated.”

It’s a hard-luck story, but hardly an uncommon one. The Curtis household is one of thousands — no, millions — across this country where people have lost their livelihood. On Friday, U.S. Department of Labor figures showed that November’s national unemployment rate had edged up to a stubborn 9.8 percent.

Curtis dreads the loss of emergency unemployment compensation. Unless Congress acts, about 2 million Americans face the loss of jobless benefits when they expire after 99 weeks of coverage. Throughout the recession, benefits have been extended. Last week, some were already losing benefits, which average about $300 per week.

Curtis said her unemployment benefits are due to expire Jan. 15.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., specifically mentioned Curtis’ plight in a speech Tuesday on the Senate floor. “These programs aren’t extravagant, but for so many workers they have made all the difference,” Murray said. “Workers like Judy Curtis, a woman from Mill Creek, Washington, who wrote to my office urging me to do everything I could to reauthorize the program.”

Curtis said Friday that she wrote to Murray urging her to fight for continued benefits.

“If they extend that unemployment, I’m not going to be sitting here eating bonbons and staring at the TV. I apply for two or three jobs a day,” she said Friday.

“You’d be amazed what happens. I go to an interview and it turns out to be a group interview with 50 people. You get lost in the shuffle,” Curtis said. “They’ll call and you set up phone interviews, then you never hear back.”

She believes her prospects are better than some people because of her solid work experience. “I have a very good resume,” she said.

Her best job was working for the vice president of engineering for Savi Technology, a company in California’s Silicon Valley. She was there until 2000 and earned $50,000.

She moved here to be closer to her daughter. In one big way, she is lucky. “Thank God, I have a house that’s paid for,” she said. Her late mother had sold a California home and bought the one where Curtis now lives.

Curtis knows that in today’s economy she is unlikely to find a lucrative job. At Boeing, she earned $20 an hour. At the synagogue, she made $18 an hour and didn’t work full-time. Now, she said, “I’m applying for full-time and part-time. I’m just looking.”

“What concerns me now, I think there’s tons of age discrimination out there,” she said.

At 65, she is eligible for Social Security. Why not retire?

“Not yet,” she said. Her Social Security benefits would be about $1,400 per month. “And I don’t like not working,” Curtis said.

Eli Zupnick, Murray’s deputy press secretary, said Thursday that the congressional fight to extend jobless benefits is far from over. Murray is co-sponsor of the Unemployment Insurance Stabilization Act of 2010, which would reauthorize emergency benefits through the end of 2011.

“Senator Murray and others are working hard to get this done in this lame duck session,” Zupnick said. Murray’s office has cited a U.S. Department of Labor study showing how jobless benefits, quickly spent, boost an economy during a recession.

As politicians fight, Curtis is angered by how some of them describe people who need jobs.

“They say we’re lazy,” she said. “When I think of how hard I have worked, and of all the resumes stacked up on both sides of my computer — to hear somebody calling me lazy — it just makes me see red.”

 - HeraldNet