Las Vegas Sun

December 22, 2014

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faces of unemployment:

Family finds silver lining in economic storm

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Mona Shield Payne/Special to the Sun

Rachel Lucero, 39, says she is grateful her husband, Roman, 38, has a stable job with Timet while she continues to look for work after being laid off in September. Living on one salary, the Luceros struggle to make ends meet and provide for their three children, all under the age of 13.

Out of Work

Although worried about the family's finances, Rachel Lucero, 39, is enjoying her time with children, Isabella, 2, and Gabriel, 4, right, while continuing to look for a job after being laid off from Progressive Gaming International in September. Launch slideshow »

Spring has arrived at the Lucero home. Saturday is the official start of the season, but it feels especially bright and warm in their front yard.

Ramon Lucero squints in the sun and sweat beads on his forehead. He speaks like a man with a million-dollar goal about the small improvement projects he has planned for their modest home near downtown Henderson.

His wife, Rachel, is wrapped around his shoulders. Parked off the front curb is a new —to them — 40-foot trailer, where 2-year-old Isabella plays hide-and-seek. The couple is planning to renew their vows in the Catholic church this summer. They're going to have a big party and fill the house with friends and family.

Lurking behind this is something that isn't so cheery. A city once booming in construction projects and home sales is looking at a 10 percent unemployment rate. Rachel Lucero is one of the faces of that statistic. But she doesn't feel like it.

"It's just a part of life," Rachel Lucero said Monday. "You just deal with it. Otherwise you'll go crazy."

Her husband agrees, because "you're here today, you could die tomorrow." This family of six is surviving off one paycheck.

Rachel Lucero has been out of work for almost 5 1/2 months. She worked at Progressive Gaming International as a data clerk in the engineering department for about three years. She started out building light bulbs for slot machines and worked her way up. Instead of getting the raise she had expected in September, she got a pink slip and her last paycheck. She made $46,000 a year.

In April, her unemployment benefits, about $390 a week, will run out. If the job hunt still doesn't pan out, she'll go back to school for drafting.

But the last time this happened — when she was laid off from her job in Washington in 1995, she moved to Las Vegas. That move brought something great. Rachel met her husband here, a Las Vegas native, and they have two children together.

Ramon Lucero is happy that his wife is home with the children. He knows of plenty of layoffs around him, but he feels secure in his position as a repair man at Timet. He still gets overtime for working Sundays, which helps the family cover the bills.

"It's not as bad as I thought it was going to be," Rachel Lucero said. "I do get the max in unemployment. That's going to run out shortly, then it's going to get tighter."

But unemployment checks aren't the same as earning an income. Sure it's money, she said, but you didn't work hard for it. You're benefiting from the system you've paid into for decades. It just feels different, she said.

Rachel Lucero has an optimism that seems to be detached from daily news and market reports.

"We'll just learn how to budget off one income," she said. "I'm sure we can do it. It won't be that bad. I'm sure we can do it."

She buys bananas and apples for the kids, rather than high-cost snacks. She buys a box of Revlon hair dye, rather than making that $100 trip to the salon.

They found the 1982 Globester trailer on Craigslist, bargaining the price down to $2,500. Even in a recession, they still get the "annual gift." They paid for it with Ramon Lucero's annual profit-sharing money. He jokingly says they'll take it to "get out of town."

Isabella ran up to her mother and cried needing to use the bathroom. It's this now, no longer the work rat race. But it's this one thing that she's most proud of.

"It has helped me be with the kids the most," she said. "For example, she is potty trained and I don't think she would be potty trained yet. I was here for it and we pushed on it and we got it done."

And now, it's off to the bathroom.

This story is part of an occasional series about valley residents coping with life after being laid off. Becky Bosshart can be reached at 990-7748 or [email protected].

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