Over 50 and once successful, jobless Americans seek support groups to help where Congress has failed | Money | The Guardian

Friday 7 November 2014

When she lost her job, Lisa Casino-Schuetz fell into a depression. Then she felt the deepest fear she had ever experienced.

Before the financial crisis struck in 2008, Casino-Schuetz had a steady job that she loved. As former assistant director of commercial outreach at New York University, with a master’s degree in industrial and organisational psychology, she had been making a comfortable living working as a business consultant.

After the crisis, things began to get harder. After she lost her consulting work she found a ​lower-paying job at a sports medical facility, which paid $15 an hour. It was a big step down in her earning power. But, she reasoned, she had an assistant and it was secure work.

Not so. After just three months, she was laid off. After months of desperate searching she found another job with an Amazon wholesaler, doing customer service. She came in on weekends. She took on extra work. But it wasn’t enough. In March 2014, she was laid off again.

After the initial shock of the setbacks, Casino-Schuetz fell into a​ depression. Casino-Schuetz is 48, divorced, and has two children, 22 and 19. Her kids didn’t understand what was happening; she didn’t really understand it herself.

“You can’t believe what’s happening to you,” she says. “You ask: ‘Why me’, ‘What did I do wrong’.” She says she felt “like a loser”.

Casino-Schuetz’s family weren’t supportive, which made things worse. She was a single mother with two children in college, and they were afraid. Her​ depression turned to terror. How was she going to live after her unemployment benefits ran out? Bills had to be paid, the kids had to be fed and the lights had to stay on. “The pressure was enormous,” she says.

“When the anxiety is so strong, you can’t focus. You don’t know who to turn to.”

In the end, she turned to her peers.

Banding together

The group Casino-Schuetz turned to for help is called Neighbors Helping Neighbors. John Fugazzie, a former retail executive in River Edge, New Jersey, founded the organization in January 2011 as a support group for the long-term unemployed. Today there are about 1,600 “members we help motivate to continue their

job search every week”. The original River Edge group has seeded chapters all across the state. It’s even expanding to Europe, where a chapter in Madrid has just opened. The group counts the success stories of those who have found work – 422 so far – carefully listed by name and location on the group’s website. Fugazzie is proud of Neighbors Helping Neighbors’ social media strategy, which has drawn 784 Facebook members and over 3,400 LinkedIn members. [ … ]

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