NEW YORK – Every night, Sharon Cabelly power-pedals on the exercise bicycle in her bedroom, clearing her head of any angst or anxiety. Then, before bed, she recites her favorite psalms, praying first for others in need and finally for her own peace of mind.
Yet, sometimes, sleep does not come. The worries come instead, unbidden and unstoppable. There are the bills to pay, the rent and the utilities. And there is the future, so uncertain and unknowable.
But when her internal alarm clock chimes at about 6 a.m., Cabelly sweeps those worries aside. She showers and boils water for her first cup of coffee. By 9 a.m., she is working on her desktop computer. There is no time to waste.
Nine months after losing her position as a medical secretary, Cabelly, 60, is still working hard at the job of finding a job. She came close last month when she emerged as a top candidate for a position as a patient advocate in a local hospital. But facing a budget crunch, the hospital did not fill the opening, leaving Cabelly back at square one.
“Each and every day, you’ve got to find the determination to keep going,” she said one morning last week as she signed in to LinkedIn, the online service that connects job-seeking and networking professionals.
“It’s mentally draining sometimes, but I’m tenacious,” said Cabelly, who has a college degree and more than a decade of experience in her field. “I need a job. I want to be able to hold my head up high again.”
Maybe you haven’t met Cabelly. But I’m betting you know someone like her. In New York City, there are about 323,900 people who are out of work, labor statistics show, enough to populate a sizable metropolis.
They are your neighbors, your fellow congregants, some of the men and women crammed beside you on the subway or bus. Day in and day out, they are coping with upended lives, struggling to squeeze back into a workforce that has squeezed them out.
Nationally, more than 3 million unemployed people have been searching for work for longer than six months, nearly three times more than there were in 2007, before the Great Recession began, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning research group based in Washington.
The numbers tell part of the story. The rest often remains unspoken: the emotional and financial burdens of joblessness; the mounting sense of self-doubt, the awkward silences among friends who grasp for words of comfort and the job offers that vaporize after seeming so tantalizingly within reach.
I met Cabelly in March when I was reporting on a job search program run by FEGS Health and Human Services for unemployed white-collar workers who are 50 or older. On graduation day, she was hopeful that the patient advocacy job would materialize.
Four weeks later, she got the bad news: Not only had the position been eliminated, but the recruiter who had wanted to hire her was being laid off. “I felt like I had been thrown against the wall,” she said.
But she refused to get discouraged. That night, she got back on her bike. The following evening, she got back to her job search routine.
So far, she has handed out more than 250 résumés and has made more than 3,000 connections on LinkedIn. She has applied for countless jobs online – “a bottomless pit,” she says – and has knocked on doors at doctors’ offices, nursing homes and synagogues in the Bronx, where she lives, to introduce herself.
But Cabelly, who is single, doesn’t sugarcoat her situation, either. In March, her unemployment benefits ran out. Her substitute teaching position pays $15 an hour, nowhere near the $50,000 a year she earned as a medical secretary. She counts on her savings and her family to help fill the gaps.
Exercise and the blue prayer book at her bedside help to keep her going. Every morning is a new beginning.
“Every single day, I say to myself, ‘You have to throw a lot of balls in the air,’ ” said Cabelly, who hopes that volunteering will lead to full-time work. “Maybe going through the back door will bring me to the right door.”