Recession Effects Linger for Mid-Missourians

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JEFFERSON CITY - For the first time in three years, Missouri's unemployment rate is less than eight percent. The Department of Economic Development reported the January unemployment rate at 7.5 percent-- the lowest since the 2008 recession. The road to individual recovery, though, is often a longer one.

Economists declared the U.S. recession ended in June of 2009. Nearly three years later, for many mid-Missourians, its effects still linger.

"It's not over. It's not over for a lot of people, and there's a lot of people that it won't be over for for a good long time," said Patty Hopkins of Sedalia.

Hopkins worked seven years for the Missouri Department of Conservation before she was laid off in July of 2011. Despite eighteen months warning, Hopkins said it's a change you're never ready for.
"I felt like when things started going wrong with jobs and the job market, I'm like, ‘State employee, I'm fine, it'll be okay, we'll work through this.' Don't ever count your chickens before they're hatched."

Leanna Lawson knows that feeling. The single mom who's worked since she was 16 has been on unemployment for more than a year now, after losing her job as a certified nursing assistant last March.

"I'm 31 years old and I moved back home with my parents because on half of an income I couldn't afford to stay... and that's horrible."

And with a hit to personal finances comes a change in daily habits.

"You make drastic changes. You don't go out to eat, you eat at home a lot more, you don't go to the movies, you don't do any of that fun stuff. You do, but it's very rare," said Lawson.

"I was kind of at a stage where things were pretty comfortable, we had the extra money to do some of the fun things we wanted to do, retirement plans getting lined out, and now all of a sudden it's a conscious thought all the time that things aren't so comfortable anymore," added Hopkins.

For both these women, though, hard economic times have brought new opportunity-- the chance to go back to school.

In recent years, growth in the numbers of older students has outpaced younger students. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, enrollment of students 25 and older rose 43 percent from 2000 to 2009, and is expected to rise another 23 percent by 2019.

Lawson is a student in the Saline County Career Center's Adult Business Technology program. Hopkins, a practical nursing student, said she's getting the chance to pursue a lifelong dream.
"When I was just getting out of high school, my father tried to convince me that I would make a great nurse. I really pondered the idea then, but finances weren't so that I could."

It's individuals like Tim Turner that give Lawson and Hopkins reason to hope.

Turner had worked almost 22 years at Jefferson City's Johnson Controls when the plant closed in 2008. Now a licensed practical nurse at the VA hospital in Columbia, Turner credits family members for guiding his career path.

After being out of school for 29 years, Turner went back-- and calls it the best decision he ever made.

"Went back, found out that I could do it, and I love what I'm doing. I love being a nurse, I love the people I take care of, so no, I don't think I'd change a thing."

And though Lawson, Hopkins and Turner all agree the recession is still going strong, they remain cautiously optimistic about the future.

"Tomorrow's a new day. It definitely can turn around; whether it will or not, we'll see," said Turner.