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 of Shelton, Conn., 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 worked 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 a 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're working a shift at a hospital, which sounds like a different career entirely. What happened?
LATTA: Yes. I came across an article in the paper about the Healthcare 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 - you know, I was more focused on their development, at the time.
SIMON: So you're 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're working in physical therapy, right?
SIMON: May I ask - indelicately - how's the pay compare 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 rewards 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, Mo., 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, Mo., 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, I ...
CLUCK: ...had made it, you know, to the top of the hill, but one day you wake up and discover you've got to find out what else you're going to do for the rest of your life.
SIMON: There you are, without a job; in your 40s; without income, health care. What did you do?
CLUCK: You know, what I knew was, 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 the thing - I can 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. It's - 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.
CLUCK: CLUCK: I thought, well - you know. I got my license; it did take me three times to pass the backing part, though. But - (LAUGHTER) you know, I feel really - I'm truly blessed I've been able to fulfill the plan that I had.
SIMON: Chris Cluck of Springfield, Mo. Before that, Donna Latta of Shelton, Conn.
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