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Nowhere Left To Work In Once-Thriving Mill City05:00

This article is more than 11 years old.

The latest state unemployment figures show that some 20,000 jobs were lost in March, and that pushes the Massachusetts' unemployment  jobless rate to 7.8 percent.

But in Fall River, a once-thriving mill city, it's more than double that figure.

In the shadow of what was once the textile capital of America, another closing among its last few mills might have been a mere curtain call of history, yet the overall economy worsened.

Nothing replaced the losses. And last month, still another mill, the curtain company CHF, shut down its production lines.

John DeSilva lost his job after 36 years.

"I felt I was homeless," DeSilva says. "I didn’t know where to go. I was very depressed. You know, that's why I never went anywhere. I was sad. I mean, it’s a tough feeling to go through."

At the Fall River Career Center, Kevin Amaral has been looking for work since being laid off in January. He's a chemical engineer who's only been laid off once before, and then only briefly.

"This one looks like it's going to be a little bit longer," he says. "I've got a lot of resumes out, there's jobs out there, but I'm not getting any calls."

Amaral has already switched careers twice, even going back to college to get an associates degree in science, leaving the textile business. He’s wearing a Sherwin Williams paint cap and spots of paint on his pants. Trying to make ends meet, he paints houses when the weather allows.

Amaral is married with two grown children in college, which he describes as "very expensive."

At the career center, a staffer is helping Amaral use a computer to prepare his resume and mail out letters, including one asking forbearance on an outstanding loan. He says he knows he’s not alone — more than 13 million other Americans have been laid off. But--

"Yeah, it bothers me, it does," Amaral says. "I think I got a good enough background and a deep enough education that I should be able to get some sort of job, you know, even if it’s below than what I should be doing, but I’m not even getting any interviews. I've got one interview in five, six, seven, eight weeks. I mean, this is like ridiculous."

A two-week program at the Fall River Career Center helps people move back into work and new careers after being laid off. Marilyn Offer leads the Job Club with humor and positive reinforcement. Attitude, she tells the club members, is everything.

For many of the people who join the club, like 52-year-old Regina Casey, starting anew seems daunting.

"I haven’t been out of work in over 30 years. So this is my first experience of being unemployed."

At the end of 17 years overseeing sales support for a company with big national accounts, Regina is looking as if for the first time.

"Everything is so totally changed," she says. "There's no personal contact anymore with anyone. So you have to sell your skills and yourself on paper. That’s been very, very stressful for me."

And yet, here in the Job Club, where they share their stories and cheer each other on, job seekers like John Damato of Fall River are focused on doing what needs to be done.

"You can either take the low road or the high road. You can be depressed or you can just try to move ahead. I worked at a place for 21 years, and I got laid off. The building industry — who’s building houses these days? No one. So I might have to change my career path. I’m 62 years old."

It's all part of the brave new world of people challenged to reinvent themselves for a new and austere economy. But, an economy that still has jobs — even if not enough of them.

At the massive Stop and Shop Distribution Center in Freetown, a fleet of pallet jacks and fork trucks race the floors of a refrigerated warehouse. Business is good — people haven’t stopped eating and they’re not going to restaurants like they used to either. Stop and Shop is hiring.

"It’s like a dream come true, really," says John DeSilva, the 53-year-old who got laid off by the CHF mill at the end of October. He has now been hired by Stop and Shop.

The grocery chain uses the center to recruit hundreds of employees, mostly men, to do the heavy lifting, overnight and weekends, to stack orders atop pallets and load the trucks that will supply about 250 grocery stores across New England.

But among those laid off at the mill, DeSilva was the exception.

"Actually, I am the only person who got the job from all the people that I know of," he says.

Better benefits than before, with a chance to make $50,000 a year including overtime as captain of his pallet jack, DeSilva is back to work, a place others hope to return to as well.

This program aired on April 17, 2009.

David Boeri Twitter Senior Reporter
Now retired, David Boeri was a senior reporter at WBUR.


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