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April 20, 2014

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Nevadans in the recession: Their stories

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Robert Martin

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Lorraine Puntorno

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Michelle Montano

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Scott Gidley

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Christopher McClennen

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Beverly Hill

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Samson Baya

How are Nevadans coping in the recession? Here are seven stories from people the Sun interviewed at the Nevada JobConnect on Maryland Parkway.

Robert Martin, 39, last worked six months ago at the Fontainebleau, where he was a member of the Heat and Frost Insulators Local 135, he said Wednesday at the JobConnect on Maryland Parkway. The massive casino project is in bankruptcy, and work has stopped.

Martin has looked everywhere, even McDonald’s and Toys R Us.

“I take Xanax to cope,” he says.

Martin finds the situation of his girlfriend, Danielle Lorenzi, even more baffling. She has a degree from UNLV and a master’s degree, and was a teacher before accepting a job with the county in child services before being laid off.

The two have gone as far east as Arkansas in search of work, to no avail.

Lorenzi does not have health insurance, but says she has health issues that need addressing. Like Martin, she also endures anxiety, including a nightly outbreak of hives, but she says the couple are persevering. “This has made us really strong.”

•••

Lorraine Puntorno, 61, thinks she faces an extra obstacle in this recession — her age.

She broke her back in a work-related injury as a food server on the Strip in 2007; since the doctor gave her the OK to return to work in the spring of 2008, she hasn’t been able to find anything.

“You don’t go on the Strip because they don’t want you — you’re too old. They think old people already smell, and can’t work, and lose their minds, and we’re not good looking,” she says.

Age discrimination is rampant in Las Vegas, she says. “They say they don’t age discriminate, but they do — terribly.”

She seems eager to work, but can’t find a thing: “I want to work until I’m 70. I have a good eight years left in me. Even with a broken back, I’m still alive and kicking.”

She’s depleted her savings and has struggled not to let stress get the best of her, with help from anti-anxiety medication.

She has no health insurance, meaning she’s unable to get treatment for a hernia or to have her back checked.

•••

Michelle Montano’s nails are bitten down to the nub, a symptom of her anxiety over becoming jobless recently after six months at Ross, the clothing store.

She’s applied everywhere, even Burger King, she says, motioning to the one next to JobConnect.

“I’ve gone through all my savings,” she says.

She has had to endure the embarrassment of borrowing money from family. “My mom is like, not rich, and they’re getting tired of it,” she says.

She would like to go back home to California, but she can’t afford it.

“Sometimes I just sit there and cry. I just wish any job would call me,” she pleads.

She recently found out she’s diabetic but has no health insurance.

The doctor told her to go to California, where a stronger social safety net might allow her to get some treatment.

•••

This recession has been easier on college graduates than on the rest of the populace, as unemployment for those workers is less than 5 percent nationally. But a college degree doesn’t make you immune to the troubles, reminds Scott Gidley, 46, who has an English degree from Fairfield University in Connecticut.

He was laid off from his last job in March.

He remains upbeat: “I’m very optimistic. I’ve got a few leads. You’ve got to remain optimistic,” he says.

Still, it’s a challenge to fight off both anxiety and depression, he says.

When you’re unemployed, he explains, it’s hard to think of anything else.

“I feel like I’m just being rather than doing,” he says.

•••

Christopher McClennen, 34, came here a month ago from the Detroit area, where he did maintenance and custodial work, because there were no jobs there, and to be with Jennifer Maples, who accompanied him to the state unemployment office Wednesday.

“It was too rough out there,” he says.

Since arriving, he’s had no luck despite “trying to get whatever I can get,” he says.

He must not have known that the situation here is just as bad, with Nevada’s unemployment at 13 percent.

The move and joblessness have been stressful, he says.

“Oh yeah. It can get pretty stressful. In this relationship it’s even gotten stressful,”

He’s been depressed: “This is the first time I’ve never had a job.”

•••

Beverly Hill had a heart attack on her 51st birthday this summer.

She was at JobConnect on Wednesday, having just come from a doctor’s appointment. Unfortunately, her blood pressure has stubbornly refused to come down.

She wonders if stress is to blame. She’s been unemployed for more than a year. She had been a telemarketer, raising money for nonprofit organizations, but struggled to meet her quota as people grew more tightfisted with the onset of the recession.

“I think if I had been working, I might not have had this heart attack — you eat and sit around like a couch potato.”

The tears stream down her face, which she shields with sunglasses the size of hamburger buns.

“I try to put it in the Lord’s hands. I try to have that faith. But I’m human. I do doubt. And I am afraid.”

•••

Samson Baya, 35, wanders the streets at night, finding warmth in casinos before heading to a friends’ places at 8 a.m. or so to get some sleep when the friends go to work.

Baya sleeps a few hours and then hits the pavement in search of work.

He came here 11 years ago from Kenya. His wife and infant son are in Chicago. He hopes to join them if he can get the money together.

He worked for the luggage-cart company at the airport for a year and a half before being laid off in October.

He has untreated high blood pressure because he has no health insurance.

Being jobless and homeless is stressful, he says. “This is my first time without work.”

He adds: “No luck, but I don’t lose hope.”

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