Jessica's story: Finding a job that pays the bills

Jessica McGreevy and her 2 boys were getting by. Then the real estate bubble burst. Now she's trying to find a job that will pay for day care. CNNMoney.com reports from the frontlines of America's economy.

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By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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Jessica McGreevy lives in Hauppauge, N.Y., with her two sons Chris, 7, and Matt, 10.
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Recession fears. Mortgage crisis. Jobs at risk. CNNMoney.com tells the real story of America's economy.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- With little college education and a sporadic work history, Jessica McGreevy was thrilled to join the red-hot real estate industry in late 2005, landing a receptionist job at a mortgage bank in a Long Island suburb about 45 miles east of New York City.

Eager to learn new skills, the single mother of two worked her way up to a position as a loan opener. She was making $32,000 and had her eye on a better-paying loan processor job. By last October, she was able to move her family out of a rented house they shared with her parents into a place across the street.

"I was making more money than I had ever made," said McGreevy, 31. "I was good at what I did. There was a lot of opportunity for advancement."

The week after she moved, she was laid off and became another victim of the great mortgage meltdown.

Though she's now willing to take a job in any field, McGreevy says she can't find one that pays more than her $325 weekly unemployment check when she factors in the cost of day care. She's spent the last six months scouring online help wanted ads, attending job fairs and sending out well over 100 resumes. She received barely any responses until last week, when she went on three interviews.

Hard to find any job

The problems in America's economy, which surfaced last year in the housing market, are spreading. The labor market is tightening across the board and it's increasingly difficult for the jobless to find any work, much less a position with a comparable paycheck.

"Nobody calls me back, nobody emails me," said McGreevy. "I sit on the computer, look at jobs and think 'Why do I even bother?' But now I'm trying harder because I'm getting to the point where I have to get a job. But I feel no matter what I do, I'll take a pay cut."

Some 18.3% of the unemployed have been out of jobs for at least 27 weeks, according to recent Department of Labor statistics. That's much more than the 11.1% who were unemployed long-term when the last recession began in March 2001.

McGreevy's situation is growing increasingly dire. Her unemployment benefits barely cover her share of the rent for the sparsely furnished, but immaculate apartment in a Hauppauge, N.Y. house where she lives with her sons, ages 7 and 10, and her younger sister. Since she doesn't qualify for food stamps or other government assistance, she often relies on her sister or her church to stock the fridge and turns to friends for money to cover some debts, including the cable bill so she can keep looking for a job. She's too afraid to open her credit card bills.

Most of the listings she's found, however, would not improve her situation. They either are for part-time work or come with hourly salaries of $10 or less. She figures she needs to make at least her former salary of $14 to $15 an hour just to make ends meet since the after-hours program at her sons' school costs about $300 a month per child. The office jobs that pay that much require either years of experience or proficiency in Microsoft Word and Excel, programs she doesn't really know but says she could learn, much as she mastered the mortgage software. And she's hampered by the lack of a college degree.

"It's hard to start off at an entry-level position and support a family," said McGreevy, who married at age 20 but is no longer in touch with her estranged husband. "Someone like me, who has the ability to do anything, should be able to make enough money to live on. So many families are really struggling and being ignored."

She has looked for health care jobs since she once held a certified nursing assistant license, which has expired, and for positions in the school system since she loves children.

Afraid to return to mortgage industry

The one field she's stayed away from is the mortgage industry. Not only are the opportunities limited, but McGreevy didn't want to risk being laid off again.

Recently, however, she started seeing some listings and has put out feelers with former supervisors. She went on two interviews in early March. If she were to return, she feels she has a better chance of earning something close to her old salary at MortgageIT in Woodbury, N.Y.

As a fall-back, McGreevy is attending cosmetology school at night since there's money to be made in highlighting hair, she said. Though she won't get her license until she graduates next spring, she figures she's preparing for the future.

"At least I feel I'm accomplishing something," she said.

How is the economy affecting your everyday life? Tell us about how your money situation has changed - or stayed the same - in the last few months. What's your biggest economic worry? Send us your photos and videos, or email us and share your story. To top of page

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