Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Jobless Rate Obscures Economic Pain Many Facing Struggle Angered by Reports

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Jobless Rate Obscures Economic Pain Many Facing Struggle Angered by Reports

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- When people like Jerry Lobdill and Chuck Engel read about the economy, they grind their teeth at the seemingly endless stream of good news, realizing it masks their personal hardship.

Both know their story isn't told by the nation's unemployment rate, at a 29-year low of 4.2 percent in March, nor by the 10-week stretch of weekly jobless benefit claims beneath 300,000, the longest since 1973.

And they know they're not alone in bridling at the statistics, and the political rhetoric that often accompanies them.

"These economic indicators . . . mean wider opportunity and a better chance for millions of Americans," President Clinton said earlier this month.

Such talk angers Lobdill, 61, of Fort Worth, Texas.

"When I hear Clinton crowing about that stuff . . . I'm just totally disgusted," he said.

MAKING ENDS MEET

In 1991, Lobdill, a chemical engineer and applied scientist, lost a job of 25 years at the Fortune 500 defense contractor, Tracor Inc. In the wrenching industry shakeout after the Cold War, he and his family moved first to Syracuse, N.Y., and then to suburban Washington so he could take jobs that lasted, respectively, seven months and two years.

After four more years of making ends meet by substitute teaching and taking odd jobs, Lobdill again is working in applied science for a firm that makes underwater acoustic sensors -- but at a third of his former salary.

He takes issue in particular with the use of the unemployment rate as a proxy for the nation's economic health, because it makes no distinction between a chemical engineer working full-time earning $100,000 and a chemical engineer tossing newspapers.

For his part, Engel, 51, of Daytona Beach, is skeptical of the significance of vigorous employment and income growth in real estate. After the growth of large discount chain stores ended his nearly 30-year career selling and servicing office machines, he joined others in thinking real estate might be the answer.

But in real estate, the top 10 percent of sales people earn 90 percent of commissions, he said.

"It takes years to build a career in this field," he said. …

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