Struggling against the stigma of unemployment
BELLA VISTA, Arkansas – Until he lost his job back in August, Jimi Nash, 32, had not given a job interview since he left high school. Now, the tile worker is willing to take any job he can get.
“If I have to I’ll take a job making donuts. It’s tough to lower myself to that level. But a job’s a job,” he said in his home in Bella Vista. “Since I lost my job I have had bouts of depression and I have felt worthless.”
Jimi, his wife Jamie and their two daughters moved here last year from Arizona because work dried up as the housing crisis killed off construction projects where Jimi could lay tiles.
“Jimi’s salary basically went from $70,000 to $20,000 over a two year period,” said Jamie, 31. “It was a difficult choice to make because all our family is in Arizona, but there was no work for Jimi so we moved here.”
“We did what we thought was best for our family.”
The family moved to Bella Vista, not far from Bentonville where retail giant Walmart has its headquarters, in the summer of 2008. Their run of bad luck continued when Jimi broke his leg in December and – because he is self-employed and does not qualify for unemployment benefits – they burned through their savings in the four months he was unable to work.
Jimi went back to work in April, but lost his job in August. Since then he has been unable to get work. They are now reliant on Jamie’s salary from her job as a nursing assistant.
“We just refinanced the mortgage and had a month where we didn’t have to make a payment,” she said. “If we didn’t have that break, we would have fallen behind on the mortgage.”
The family has stopped eating out and has pared back their budget to necessities. They now use credit cards for emergencies.
“We never really thought anything about eating about before,” Jimi said. “Now we’re really grateful to have a meal out, even if it’s Taco Bell.”
Jimi has sent out dozens of job applications and attended a job fair, but said that everywhere that he applies there are multiple applicants chasing the same job. The unemployment rate in Arkansas is 7.1 percent, lower than the national average of 10.2 percent, but Jimi said competition for the few jobs around is fierce.
He said that the stigma of being out of work has been the hardest thing for him to deal with.
“All I’ve ever known is working hard to feed my family,” he said. “Now I wonder how friends and family look at me and what they think of me.”
“I’m afraid they look down on me.”
The Nashes say they are hanging on for now. Friends have invited them over to celebrate Thanksgiving, which would otherwise be a major expense for them. But the holidays follow soon after.
“We’re trying to even think about Christmas right now,” Jamie said.
Photos by Lucy Nicholson