'Unemployed Nation' Kicks Off Today at University of Washington

By Katherine McKeon

Voices of the underemployed and unemployed will coalesce with those of University of Washington President Michael Young, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and others today as part of Unemployed Nation, a conference on the realities of the current recession.

The conference is a product of the UW, the City of Seattle and the Seattle Labor council, aimed at bringing awareness to the 23 million underemployed and unemployed Americans.

With the inclusion of testimonials from local people affected by financial difficulties, James Gregory, a UW history professor and organizer of the conference, expects this event to be different than the self-described "ivory tower's" usual business.

"There's nothing unique about a conference on unemployment at a university," Gregory says. "But that's usually just a bunch of sociologists and political scientists talking to themselves. There's no impact."

While Washington's unemployment rate of 8.2 is lower than the federal level of 8.3-percent, Gregory believes the numbers do not accurately reflect the recessions' untold number of victims.

Khayah Brookes, a UW senior who plans to testify Friday, says her chronic underemployment has led her to drop out of school twice. A transfer student from Seattle Central Community College, up until this year Brookes says she struggled to secure enough money for school and living expenses.

"I wouldn't have looked for my third job had I made enough money with my first two," she says. "And I wouldn't have looked for my fourth job had I made enough money with my first three."

Before landing a stable job as a physics tutor for the UW and other private clients, Brookes cycled through jobs in landscaping, house cleaning and office temping. She also worked at a veterinary acupuncture clinic.

"If I did not work, I would never be off the Dean's list," she says. "The people who hire me can earn better grades than me, because they have the luxury of hiring a tutor."

Like many others, Brookes' financial struggles did not stop at just herself - her entire family has been affected. After three years of searching for work, her mother, a legal secretary, was finally hired.

Studies show people who struggle with unemployment often face more than just financial difficulties.

"To be chronically unemployed, it destroys peoples sense of worth," Gregory says.

"As people stay in their homes, they loose their ability to realize it's not just them."

The conference will be held at the University of Washington Seattle campus in Kane Hall, today from 2:30 - 5 p.m., and Saturday from 2 - 3:30 p.m.

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