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At Employment Office in Chicago's Northwest Suburbs, Workers Look for Jobs in Troubled Economy

Aired February 2, 2001 - 1:25 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Corporate downsizing forcing many workers to start and look for new jobs -- CNN's Jeff Flock joins us from an employment office in Chicago's northwest suburbs.

Jeff, what's the scene like there?

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Natalie, Arlington Heights, Illinois -- and it's borne out those national figures borne out here, locally: in this office alone, about 500 more claims, about 2,600 compared to 2,100 the last January this January.

This is the process -- we're sort of taking you through the process. This is where you come in. You sign in. You pick up one of these application forms and take it over to some of the people who help you process it. It goes through everything from applying for benefits to something called the Resource Center; that is a computer- based match program where hopefully you come in, you give you skills to the computer, and it finds you job matches.

Jim Ballee has run this office for a good long time -- remembers the early '80s, when you had lines around this place.

So as unimproved as things are right now, it's bad as that.

JIM BALLEE, SECRETARY, ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT: Oh, no, not near as bad as it was in the '80s -- no, no. We used to have 400 or 500 people a day, and we don't have that now.

FLOCK: As take a look around this center with our cameras, cure some misconceptions for me: You get -- when you get unemployment, you don't get anywhere near the salary that you made typically, correct?

BALLEE: Oh, absolutely not, maybe $250, $300 a week, but you might have been making $700 or $800 a week on your job.

FLOCK: The other thing about severance, a lot of people that have been getting laid off in these corporate downsizings get severance. Here in Illinois, that does not necessarily disqualify you from applying for unemployment, correct?

BALLEE: That's correct. If wage is in lieu, it is an issue that we have to deal with, but in severance, no.

FLOCK: So I can get severance and I can get unemployment.

BALLEE: That's correct.

FLOCK: Interesting.

I want to go talk to an individual person -- Jim, thanks so much -- and interrupt this session here, which is -- this gentleman we talked to earlier, who's now in the midst of his session.

You were just recently laid off, Paul, tell me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a union worker and a union plumber and it just got slow -- the weather in November and December -- just couldn't build the houses, but -- so I got laid off now.

FLOCK: So what do you do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just going to lay low for, you know, about a month and it will pick up. There's an immense amount of work out there. It's just when the conditions get better for it -- and you know, just wait about a month.

FLOCK: What do you hear, what do you think when you hear all of this news -- corporate downsizing, there's a lot more people laid off -- what goes through your mind?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel confident because I'm in a great field. There's actually a lack of skilled labor work out there, and I think there will be shortage in a few years. You know, everyone's gone for computer jobs, but somebody still has to build the houses and the buildings, so it really doesn't affect me that much as far as that goes.

FLOCK: So you're still optimistic?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir.

FLOCK: We'll let you get back to it. Thank you, appreciate very much the perspective as we continue to illuminate the process for you.

This is what happens: If you get a layoff, you come to a place like this. All over the country, they exist -- and perhaps the lines get longer.

I'm Jeff Flock, CNN, reporting live from Arlington Heights, Illinois.

ALLEN: I like to hear, though, from that worker, Jeff, who's optimistic -- thanks so much.

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