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By Susan M. Sipprelle
Englewood, NJ, USA

Susan M. Sipprelle
Susan M. Sipprelle

The day after the marathon bombings, I flew to Boston. I had been invited to attend a class on the impact of layoffs at Harvard Business School. The lecture topic: the full range of costs associated with layoffs and the unexpectedly limited returns that they generate for companies. The class is also designed and intended to sensitize students, future global business leaders, to the great hardships people face after being laid off.

Sam Newman, filmmaker, and I chronicled the pain and suffering that unemployment causes in our multimedia project Over 50 and Out of Work and award-winning documentary Set for Life, so I was particularly interested in observing the students' comments and reactions to the subject of layoffs at the elite business school.

When I landed at Logan airport, however, I learned that Harvard Business School had cancelled classes on Tuesday, April 16. Boston seemed stunned, purposeful, sad. Many people wore their bright blue and yellow marathon running jackets as they walked along the streets of both Boston and Cambridge, where Harvard is located.

I did have the opportunity to meet with Colonel Everett Spain, who intends to return to West Point to teach leadership after he completes his doctorate at the business school. In his soft-spoken, thoughtful and reverential manner, Spain said that he had run the marathon as an escort for a blind competitor. When they neared the end of the race, the first bomb exploded in front of them, and then the second detonated behind them. Luckily, they were both unhurt. Spain helped his partner safely cross the finish line and reach a race volunteer, then Spain turned back toward the blasts to help the wounded. He pulled off his t-shirt and used it as a tourniquet. The shirt bore the logo of Team Red, White and Blue, a nonprofit that helps veterans and their communities connect through physical and social activities.

I spoke with Spain about the difficulties that soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan often experience as they readjust to civilian life - the general focus of the next documentary that Sam and I have begun to research and shoot. In early March, we traveled to a riding facility in Georgia where Mike Randall, 65, a Vietnam veteran, helps today's Iraq and Afghanistan veterans recover from the trauma of war.

While there, we met Matthew Wingate, 37, a former Marine who was shot by a sniper in Iraq and suffered grave injuries to his chest, head and back. Wingate said he had been fast-tracked out of the Corps once it became clear that he could no longer perform his duties as an explosive ordnance disposal technician. He stressed the anguish he felt at being expelled from his band of brothers so suddenly and swiftly.

Wingate's description of what he feels was his banishment from the Marines is comparable to the dislocation and shock that employees often experience when they are laid off through no fault of their own.

Joe Price, 53, of Weirton, W.V. is one of the three main characters in Set for Life. When he became a steelworker in 1986, Price thought he would have a stable livelihood, like his father and grandfather had enjoyed before him, but Price's years in the mill coincided with the decline of U.S. steelmaking and he was laid off seven times over his quarter century career.

By 2010, Price had become anxious because he had been laid off for almost two years due to the mill's downsizing. He and his wife were draining their savings to pay their living expenses and bills, their union-sponsored health insurance coverage was coming to an end, and the economy, especially in West Virginia continued to languish. During Price's video interview for Over 50 and Out of Work, he picked up his hard hat and pleaded for government to help him find a new job. [To view the clip, click here]

In March 2011, however, Price managed to find a job at a solar mirror manufacturer located outside of Pittsburgh, about 25 miles east of Weirton. Over the next two years, he received additional training, raises and promotion from his new employer, Flabeg Solar U.S. Corp., a wholly-owned subsidiary of a German company. Price liked his new job, as well as its compensation and benefits, especially his health insurance plan, since both he and his wife are cancer survivors. Feeling cautiously optimistic, Price and his wife began to save and plan their future retirement again.

Mike Randall,
founder of Hopes and Dreams Riding Facility
(Credit: Samuel D. Newman)

Their hopes were dashed when Flabeg Solar U.S. Corp. declared bankruptcy on Tuesday, April 2, 2013, and Price was dumped back into the ranks of the unemployed at the age of 53 without any warning or advance notice. Only this time, to maintain his health insurance he must pay for it himself. Even with the short-term help of the federal COBRA subsidy, and he is unsure how long he will be able to afford coverage.

Price, like Wingate, feels betrayed and set adrift. Wingate found support, friendship and community to rescue him from his darkest moments at Randall's Hopes and Dreams Riding Facility. A growing network of grassroots organizations, including Team Red, White and Blue, calls attention to our veterans' great needs and responds to them, supplementing governmental programs and assistance for veterans.

Where is the community outreach and government intervention to help the long-term unemployed whose lives have been shattered by corporate layoffs, downsizing and closures?

"For the long-term unemployed, the situation is verging on hopeless," Arianna Huffington wrote in a recent post.

Price has reluctantly filed for unemployment benefits, as he girds himself to begin yet another job search that he anticipates will be lengthy and difficult. He is one of the 4.6   million long-term unemployed, about whom, neither the government or community activist groups any longer seem to care.



Susan M. Sipprelle is a multimedia documentary maker, a journalist and a photographer. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in 2008, and is the mother of five children.

OVER 50 AND OUT OF WORK is an ongoing multimedia project that documents the impact of the Great Recession on jobless Americans, 50 and older. Boomers, generally regarded as self-centered and indulgent, reveal unexpected depths of faith, perseverance and resilience through their life stories.

All opinions expressed by Susan M. Sipprelle are solely her own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.

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