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3:21 am
Sun October 28, 2012

Working It: Living Between Hope And Hardship

Originally published on Sun October 28, 2012 7:58 am

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Time now for another story in our Working It series. People in Nashville, Tennessee, have been sharing their ups and downs in a difficult job market. Today, we meet James Elliott. He lost his job with a big construction company four years ago. Now, he works as a freelance carpenter and handyman. He's 51 years old, married, with a grown daughter and a 17-year-old son. We followed him through a day's work digging trenches and fixing cars with his friends.

JAMES ELLIOTT: I came up in a rough project area in Pensacola and I wanted to get away. I left town when I was 12 years old and I got put in, like, a reform school. When I was 14, I started working and I've taken care of myself since then pretty much. Slow going. There was a carnival in my town and so I ended up following the fair probably 10 years old and was a carny. And, you know, that was an excited way of life then for a young men to travel and see the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ELLIOTT: I was real wild and I didn't have anything to show for my life. I met the right person, my wife, and getting together with her gave me a purpose in life. Hey, hon. It's me. It looks like I'm going to have to stay a little bit late working and trying to get this done. Yeah, you have a good evening. I'll be there in a couple of hours. All right. I love you, bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF BANGING)

ELLIOTT: And I worked there 18 years with the same company. When the economy got bad, the supervisor came, brought me my check and stuff, and he says, man, we're going to have to lay you off. And I said what? And he told me that they couldn't afford to keep several of us older people on anymore. That's just sad. It makes you feel terrible to be done that way. Here we go again. It's a rough way to have to dig a ditch. Now, I'm currently working for myself. You know, it's like a laborer all over again, a 51-year-old laborer starting all over. I'm working for $10 an hour digging a ditch like someone half my age would do, by hand. And, you know, it's rough. You don't have any ideas of how to do this easier, do you? We stayed just ahead of the bill collector. I mean, we're behind on the electric and the water and stuff like that. We stayed just on the edge of falling apart. It's a struggle on your mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLATTER)

ELLIOTT: My son, he said, dad, don't worry about it. Everything will be OK. He just said if I could get to where I've got money, dad, you know, don't worry. I'll sure help you out. He's a good kid. That's all I can say.

(LAUGHTER)

ELLIOTT: I'd do anything to be able to just tell him, son, don't worry about it. I got your college money covered. You just go to school and learn. And that's, well, that's money that I don't have and I don't even realize how I'll be able to get that kind of money.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINES)

ELLIOTT: Good idea. No matter what happens, I'm not going to just give up. Every day I'm going to get up and I'm going to struggle. It's a constant mental challenge to me to think how am I going to make it. Like I say, I just get up every day, just call around and try to find out something to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ELLIOTT: A man that has responsibility, you have to put your pride aside. If you got to dig ditches, clean out Port-a-Potties, no matter what the job is, a real man would do what he's got to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: James Elliott of Nashville, Tennessee. His story was produced by Kim Green. And you can hear more sound portraits in our Working It series at NPR.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: One final note: We have good news from Jesse Rhew, the first person we met in our series a few weeks ago. He'd been laid off from a large energy company last spring. This month, he took new job as a scientist at an aerospace testing company.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.