Profile: Wayne Drescher, automotive IT worker

Thursday, March 10th, 2011 

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Workshop reporter Kat Aaron interviewed Wayne Drescher, who worked in automotive IT in Indiana  and was with his company for 23 years before being laid off from his position more than two years ago. Here is an edited excerpt of their conversation.

The whole offshoring of our industries, our workers in IT, is devastating to us. There are jobs that are never coming back.

I think we need to rethink our global economy.

I think that we are hurting because the jobs are going overseas. They’re paying cheap labor, probably not a fair wage, getting it done cheaply. Bringing it back in, there’s no tarriffs and no taxes, and we buy.

In this area, we used to be a big industrial area. That’s what South Bend was all about. Bendix just left. They just packed up and left. There’s hardly anything left here in terms of industries.
Wayne Drescher
Did you plan to retire from that job?

Absolutely did. I expected to retire with this job. I was trained exclusively at the job that I did. I knew exactly what to do pertaining to the automotive industry. I was trained through them. I had no certification whatsoever. But I could do my job. The only schooling I had was high school. And that doesn’t look good on a resume.

I’m just a few months short of being 60. I was laid off at 57. And it’s been two years. There were a few people laid off who were actually closer to retirement than I was. But close isn’t close enough. I have to draw on some of my IRA to stay alive, keep my head above water. Lots of people are like this. They’re all in the same boat.

How do you keep going? I imagine continuing to look for work after so long must be draining.

It’s tough.

You start out your first few weeks in utter shock. Because when you don’t expect it after 23 years, it’s a shock.

And then you panic. You don’t know how much money you’re gonna get from unemployment. The bills are coming in. I’m a person who’s never late on the bills, so I’m in a panic.

You go to the places who always said, you know, if you’re ever out of work, come see me, and they’re not there any more. Maybe they’re not hiring, maybe they lost your number.

Then you start getting into a groove where you fill out every application that you can. And after a year you start to give up. There’s only so many applications you can put in. I’ve had two or three interviews in 3 years.

When you get unemployment in Indiana, you have to put your resume in to the system at Indiana Career Connect. I’ve had in two years, three views at my resume.
I’m on food stamps, for the first time ever in my whole life. I finally decided to see if I qualified and I did, immediately. They know. Did I ever think that I’d be 59 years old and on food stamps? No way.

Why did you wait for so long to apply for food stamps?

I was making enough money to squeak by each week. Food stamps never occurred to me until I totally lost my unemployment. And then I thought, I just have to go see if I can get some kind of help. This is the first month. But you know, it hurts.

I want a job. I want to get up in the morning and go to work. But I feel like it might never happen, and I have to do something on my own.

You said you think once you do get a job, the bill collectors will come calling?

I’m working on trying to file bankruptcy. Which is something I haven’t done ever in my life. I have some credit card bills that are large. They weren’t large when I was working but they’re suddenly very large, because they charge you ungodly amounts of interest.

You start earning a real paycheck and you’re garnished. You’ll finally be working but you’ll be getting less money than you did if you didn’t work at all.

It’s just one of the many things you think of every day. How can I keep my phone on, how can I keep my internet on? What do I need to do to eat? It’s something I’ve never had to do in my whole life, and it’s so new.

In a way, I’ve learned a lot.

How would you describe what you used to think, and what you think now?

I probably didn’t really care all that much about somebody that was out of work. I had my job, I made my money. I didn’t think about the people who didn’t have a job and didn’t worry too much about nickel and diming my groceries, about spending too much on a car.

So now you think can I make it to the grocery store tonight, or can I wait until tomorrow and go to the grocery store and the bank together because they’re in the same spot, and gas is three-something a gallon.

Everything you do, you have to think it out. I never had to do that before.

It’s a whole new learning experience. You learn how to navigate through life cheaper. And still try to maintain a level of life that you can at least enjoy.

I think a few years ago I would have looked at someone and said, “If you can’t find a job in two years, guy, there’s something wrong with you.” But here I am at 99 weeks, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me.

Do you feel the changes on a community level, as well as in your home?

There are so many foreclosed homes. There are so many businesses that are closed. We have a very large mall area not too far from here, just a few miles. They’re all big box stores, and little by little, all the big box stores are leaving. There’s probably 10 stores in that area that are empty. You just don’t see people out shopping like you normally would.

It’s funny because normally in wintertime, I’m out shoveling snow. I was laid off in January (2009), and I was out there shoveling snow. Shoveling snow to me was my job. It made me feel good to get up in the morning and do something.

A year later, there’s more people out with me shoveling snow. There’s more men home from work than there was a year ago.

Do you talk about this with your friends? The guys you see shoveling snow, do you talk about being in the same boat?

No. I had a couple neighbors, when I first got laid off, and it was a few months down the road from when I got laid off. They’d say, “You haven’t found a job yet? Oh, you’re kidding me!

It took them a very long time to walk up to me and say well, I lost my job, too.

Maybe they thought I was different.

I’m always hopeful. After a long cold winter where everybody is stuck in their house, summertime just opens everybody’s eyes. They say maybe I need to hire these people, or maybe I need to hire a few more.

Eventually it’s gotta open up somewhere along the line, or it’s just going to collapse.

If things don’t pick up in the summer, if August comes and things haven’t changed much, what does that look like for you?

If summer comes and goes I will be out of money. I don’t know what I would do at that point.

One thing about being a 99er, or unemployed, you don’t look that far into the future because you can’t. That’s your downfall. You have your present and your tomorrow and that’s all.

I have some friends who committed suicide over it. They were in their 50s, they had no kids at home, they had no money. They were done. They just said this world doesn’t want me any more.

I don’t think past March at this point. I have to do my taxes, and I know I owe, because I haven’t paid anything in. You have to pay taxes on your unemployment. I don’t know where that money’s going to come from.

But that’s April. Like I said, I don’t think about that. I don’t think about that.



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