Reinstated worker counts blessings -- and change

August 14, 1994|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Sun Staff Writer

Ed Adams' 10-month ordeal with unemployment ended with an April telephone call inviting him back to his job at Miles Inc. in East Baltimore.

In that time, Mr. Adams had made do by picking up jobs here and there, such as driving delivery trucks and laying underground electric cables.

The call from Miles -- offering his old job back weighing and mixing chemicals and coloring agents -- not only was a relief but represented doubling Mr. Adams' pay from the $7.50 an hour he had made on the fill-in jobs to about $15.

The pay actually is $1 an hour more than he made at the time he was laid off, the day before Independence Day in 1993.

"Did we celebrate? Yeah, we rented a two-bedroom condo and took all three kids to Ocean City for a week and, after all that scrimping and saving all that time, for one week we just didn't bother anybody about what they were spending," he said.

Like tens of thousands of other Marylanders, Mr. Adams became unemployed long after March 31, 1991 -- the date officially recognized as the end of the national recession.

The state had a net loss of 80,000 jobs during the recession, and unlike most of America, it went on losing jobs for two more years after the recession ended.

By the end of the first quarter of 1993, Maryland had lost 40,000 more jobs, for a total of 120,000, before the state's economy began to turn around.

Recovery has come to this state slowly, and most of the Marylanders who lost jobs have not been as lucky as Mr. Adams.

At current rates of growth, Maryland would not regain all the jobs it lost to the recession for another 12 to 18 months.

When he got his layoff notice, Mr. Adams called his family together and laid out how hard they would have to fight to meet the $950 monthly payments and hang onto the four-bedroom, two-bathroom house they bought 14 years ago near the White Marsh Mall.

"I lived all my life in rowhouses, and a really nice individual house like this had been a dream for a long time, so I was determined to do whatever it took to keep it," he said.

"I told them that the two older children, who are in college, would have to earn money to pay more of their own way, and everyone would have to help in every possible way -- turning off lights and keeping air conditioning and heat low, all those things you can do to cut back. We had two refrigerators, so we unplugged one of them right away," he recalled.

Thanksgiving and Christmas meals came with help from union-sponsored packages, and his union helped with utility bills. But the first big break came last winter when his wife, Denise, was able to go from part-time to full-time as assistant department manager at a supermarket.

Her promotion gave everyone health insurance again, but not soon enough.

"Eric, our 14-year-old son, had to have an operation for an infected toe while we were without insurance, and that cost us a couple thousand dollars we didn't really have. But we didn't have any choice," he said.

Miles came back when the new housing market began to recover. The company's line is heavy with products affected by the housing market -- such things as coatings for refrigerators, colorings for household tiles and linings for hot water heaters.

Today, Mr. Adams not only has a job but works plenty of overtime. "It's either feast or famine. When I was out of work, it was so bleak, but our family is very close and I never stopped believing we would find a way through it. For now, things couldn't be rosier, though I always have to remember the company is dependent on the housing market," he said.

"I have a relatively good background -- a clean work record, a high school diploma, some college, and when I was out of work I took a technical course. But I spent those months driving a bakery truck, laying cables and driving for a health care company, never more than $7.50 an hour, because there just weren't any good jobs out there," he said.

Now that he is fully employed again, Mr. Adams says that won't mean business as usual for his family. "We learned some things from the whole experience -- using the coupons to save on purchases, watching certain things very carefully -- that we are not going to change now," he said.

His wife's parents pitched in to help the two older children with college expenses.

He still won't be able to help his daughter, Dawn, 21, a senior at Towson State University, except by paying her car insurance.

His older son, Eddie, 19, will get help from his grandparents and help from home for half of his tuition at Essex Community College, to keep some of his time free for semi-pro baseball because major league scouts have been watching him and the family wants to keep his chances alive.

But for thousands of others in Maryland the struggle with unemployment and fill-in jobs has not yet ended.

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