WARE, Mass. — Mike McCarthy was laid off 15 months ago from his job at American Disposables, one of the last remaining mills here. He lives about five minutes south, in Warren, with his fiancée.
They’re just making ends meet on her disability pay and the $180 he’s collecting in unemployment every week. But his unemployment runs out at the end of the month, and he has no idea how they’ll get by after that.
The thing is, aside from the time he was briefly rehired at American Disposables, it has been years since McCarthy found any real work. While the big retail stores such as Wal-Mart may be hiring, McCarthy is holding out for another factory job.
“I really miss getting up and going to work every day, I really do. It gives me great satisfaction to make a quality product here in the United States of America,” McCarthy says.
“It makes you feel good inside, I think, you know, rather than to sit around all day and collect, I mean, who wants to do that, really?
“I wish there were more jobs around here, I really, really do.”
It didn’t use to be like this in Ware.
“I started working back in, I think it was, like, ’86 or ’87, and I remember one week I had three different jobs that week. I’m not kidding you. That’s how many jobs there were. You could quit a job, the next day you could go get a job, you could quit that job, and the next day you could go get another job at three different places.
“Now, you can’t do that. If you get a job, you better hold on to it. Because there’s like 2,000 people out there ready to take that position. No matter what it is.”
McCarthy says no one in Ware is hiring.
“Just in this neighborhood alone, like this entire street, I don’t think there’s maybe two people on this whole street that even have a job.
“And I think that’s what bothers me the most, is that, you know, I read about it in the paper every day, you know, how they say things are getting better, and I’m just thinking, getting better where? Because it’s not happening here,” he says.
McCarthy has had to give up a lot in recent years. He lost his health insurance. He couldn’t afford to keep his car, so when he needs to go job-hunting, he has to hitch a ride from his brother, who’s also out of work.
He enrolled at the University of Phoenix, an online school, hoping to get a college degree. But then his mom got sick and he had to drop out, so he lost his federal grant. Now he owes the school $2,000 and is still no closer to having a degree.
At this point, his best plan isn’t even to get a job he keeps. Just to get one he can hold onto long enough to be eligible for another round of unemployment.
“Who knows, I may go back to work next month, but then — how long will it last? Will they be able to keep me employed? I don’t know. What I’m hoping is maybe I’ll be able to go back long enough, if my unemployment does run out, so I can collect more. To at least try to keep myself intact for now.”
I ask him: “When’s the last time you bought something that you don’t really feel like you needed, that it was maybe a little bit of a luxury or a little bit of a stretch and what was it?”
He ponders the question.
“It was my engagement ring for my girl. I bought it last Christmas. So, we didn’t really need it, but I needed it. I needed it to give to her to show her how much I cared for her, because you know, that’s all you have is each other.
“I spent quite a bit of money. I’d like to have that money right now, but … but it was worth it. I think that’s how we get through it.”
Mike says part of the reason the engagement ring is so important is because they won’t actually be able to get married for a while. They just don’t have the money.
And he calls himself fortunate not to have any children. Not because he doesn’t want them, but because he has no idea how he could afford to take care of them.