People wait in line looking for jobs during a Job Fair
at the Miami Dade College, March 4, 2009
Jamie Laird had hoped to retire comfortably some day from the machinist's job he has held for 30 years, but his western Illinois manufacturing plant is closing and he now fears for his family's economic future.

Everything's up in the air. You've got a paycheck coming in every week, then you don't. It's scary, said the 48-year-old, who worries about supporting his wife and two daughters after he loses his $36,000 in yearly earnings.

The bad thing about it is there is no jobs around here. Equivalent to what I'm making now, there's nothing. I don't know what I'm going to do, to tell you the truth, Laird said.

He and 100 co-workers were notified that Quad City Die Casting will shut next month after 60 years in business, a move attributed in part to slumping market demand. The Moline, Illinois, firm makes parts for motorcycles, escalators and playground equipment.

They sent us a certified letter saying that they were going to close July 12th. I haven't heard a whole bunch about why. I was totally shocked. I thought I would retire from there, Laird said.

The scene in Illinois -- companies laying off workers, announcing furloughs, reducing work hours or going out of business -- is occurring across the United States, where 5.7 million jobs have evaporated since the recession began in December 2007.

Economists surveyed by Reuters expect the U.S. Labor Department to report on Friday that more than half a million jobs were eliminated in May -- the slowest pace of job losses in seven months but still dismal news.

When you think about 500,000 people losing their jobs, it doesn't include the families, the kids ... It affects everybody, Laird said.

On Thursday, the Labor Department reported the number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits fell last week for the third straight week, showing some weakening in the labor market's deterioration.

The U.S. jobless rate is expected to rise to 9.2 percent in May, up from 8.9 percent in April. It is nearly double the 4.9 percent rate at the start of the recession and the highest level in a quarter of a century.

The news may get worse in the Midwest Rust Belt, where some economists say hundreds of thousands of jobs are at risk from auto industry upheaval. Illinois' 9.4 percent jobless rate in April was already a half percentage point higher than the national rate.


Still, signs of a possible economic recovery have emerged: rising consumer confidence and gains in the stock market and even the housing sector, which is often blamed for triggering the downturn. There are also hopes the federal government's $787 billion stimulus funding program will kick-start job creation.

Have we seen the bottom or are we on a shelf that's about to take another deep dive? said Sheldon Schur, a vice president at employment services company Manpower Inc.

From what I've seen of our client base I really think we've seen the bottom in most industries. If you're in the auto industry you might have a different view, he said.

As in past recessions, the job market's recovery will likely lag any upturn in the overall economy. Schur said the shock of this recession and prospects for a gradual recovery will likely deter employers from adding workers too quickly.

Laird does not relish the prospect of applying for unemployment benefits but sees few alternatives given his specialized skills and what jobs are available. He should receive about $400 a week for up to 14 months.

Meanwhile, the bills keep piling up. The $500 monthly rent is due on the family's home and they must come up with another $450 to pay monthly gas and light and water bills.

I still got a little bit of my income tax refund left, Laird said with a fast-dissolving chuckle. It's not going to last me long, what I do have.