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‘They blew it’—unemployed workers struggle as leaders dither

April 23rd, 2011 Posted in Arts and Life

By Kevin Murphy

LOGAN—Kim Christiensen looks the part of a construction veteran. The long hair and beard, old baseball cap, and paint-spattered work boots all speak to years of experience.

For almost 40 years, he has helped build homes for families in Cache Valley while raising a family of his own. He has seen a lot in that time, and many changes—but he has never seen anything to compare with the last four years.

“They blew it,” he says, gazing up Green Canyon toward the empty and half-finished houses he can’t see but can visualize at the head of the canyon. “They just got greedy. And we have to deal with it.”

Christiensen, 58, is referring to the 2007 housing meltdown in which banks invested in loan packages involving hundreds of thousands of home-buyers who could not make their mortgage payments when the system collapsed.

Christiensen is one of thousands of workers in Cache Valley whose lives and livelihoods were forever altered when home values declined, construction stalled, and businesses either closed or moved from the area. He has relied on unemployment while his family struggles to get by, but even that has failed as an option since the Utah Legislature refused $100 million from the federal government to increase unemployment benefits for 13 weeks.

Christiensen shakes his head when he hears Utah Senate President Michael Waddoups say that not extending unemployment benefits would motivate people to find jobs.

“It’s not like I’m not looking,” Christiensen says. “For two years I’ve applied for every job I can find. The Workforce Services board—those jobs have been up there for two years and

I’ve never gotten one e-mail or callback.”

He also blames employers who hire immigrants at lower wages. “You can’t support a family on nine dollars an hour,” he said.

Christiensen’s luck may have turned for the moment. He is hoping to begin work in the next few weeks on the new Agricultural College building being constructed at Utah State University. It might, he believes, provide an income through October.

And after that? “I’ll just keep on going” Christiensen smiles, still gazing up the canyon at the unfinished homes.



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