SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Long-term unemployment has forced some out-of-work Americans to reconsider and sometimes reinvent their life's work. Some are helped by job retraining programs. Some strike off for themselves. We talked to two people this past week who found new jobs after learning new skills even as they went through some anxious times. Donna Latta is back on the job in a new line of work. She's 59 years old, married, and has a family. Her children are now grown. She was a secretary at a Fortune 500 company when the recession hit, and she lost her job in August of 2010.
DONNA LATTA: Well, it was very upsetting because I had been with the company for 28 years and the people that I work with, you know, it was like family, so when that happened it was very disturbing, but I understood and I was grateful to the years that I did have with the company that I worked for.
SIMON: What happened when you began to look for work?
LATTA: Well, it wasn't easy. There were so many people that were unemployed during that time, and when I started working, which was long time ago, you could come out of high school and you could get trained for a position, and that was fine, but now, when you went to these companies, they wanted you to have all the skills and if you applied for a position and there was something in that position you were not qualified to do, you were overlooked.
SIMON: So, how long were you unemployed?
LATTA: Well, I was unemployed for really about a year and seven months because I did do a temp position for five months.
SIMON: So, we reached you, you are working a shift at a hospital, which sounds like a different career entirely. What happened?
LATTA: Yeah. I came across an article in the paper about the health care academy that was through the workplace and I applied for it and I realized that this was something that I could do because I always wanted to be in health care, but because I got married young and had my children young, I was more focused on their development at the time.
SIMON: So, you are doing what you wanted to do a number of years ago?
LATTA: Well, basically, I wanted to be a midwife, but now I'm learning how to be a medical assistant.
SIMON: So you are working in physical therapy, right?
SIMON: May I ask, indelicately, how's the pay compared to when you worked at the Fortune 500 Company?
LATTA: Well, unfortunately, being that I worked at my former company like 28 years, it was a significant reduction in pay. But the reward that I'm doing now working with people and working with this group, I think it outweighs right now the pay that I was making. And eventually, because I'm going for my certification as a medical assistant, that will come also.
SIMON: Chris Cluck of Springfield, Missouri is back at work in the cab of a truck but that's not the route in which he started. Mr. Cluck spent 15 years in the news business. He began writing obituaries for a local newspaper, rising to staff writer, then editor, even publishing his own weekly newspaper. Chris Cluck had taken a reporter's job in 2007 with a newspaper in Ozark, Missouri when...
CHRIS CLUCK: They've downsized and I found myself without a job at 43 years old, so you know, to take a Lennon/McCartney song, I felt kind of like the fool on the hill, you know.
CLUCK: I made it, you know, to the top of the hill but one say you wake up and discover you've got to find out what else you're going to do for the rest of your life.
There you are without a job, in your 40s, without income, health care. What did you do?
You know, what I knew is I had to have a plan, so fortunately my brother had found himself in a similar situation in 2001 and he was - he said, well, you know, the trucking industry right now is really looking for people and I decided, well, it seemed like I could enjoy it and it certainly pays a lot better too, I have to say that.
SIMON: Driving a truck pays a lot better than being a reporter? And you were an editor.
CLUCK: Yes, I - when I became an editor in '97, '98, I made about $25,000 a year, and that was the best I ever made. When I started out writing obituaries it was $250 a week. And my first year truck driving I, you know, I made three times that.
SIMON: Well, good for you. It's a tough way to live though, isn't it?
CLUCK: You know, Scott, we're out - I'm out, you know, two to three weeks at a time. You certainly earn the money, you do.
SIMON: Are you happy?
CLUCK: Absolutely. I mean, it was a struggle. When I first approached my wife about doing this she said, well, do you think you can drive a truck? She says, I've seen you parallel park before. I though, well, you know, I got my license. It did take me three times to pass the backing part though, but, you know, I feel really blessed that I'm able to fulfill the plan that I had.
SIMON: Chris Cluck of Springfield, Missouri. Before that, Donna Latta of Shelton, Connecticut.
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