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Reynoldsburg Woman In Financial Scramble As Jobless Benefits End

For the long-term unemployed, the start of 2014 delivered more financial pain, the loss of unemployment compensation. The lost benefits will soon force hard life choices for thousands of Ohioans, including a Reynoldsburg resident whose financial lifeline has been cut. As I arrived at her home, 43 year old Lena Rouse had arranged her laptop and phone on a living room coffee table. She explains she often "tweaks" her resume. Before the Great Recession, Rouse worked for 19 years in banking and financial services. Since then she's twice been unemployed for long periods, including all of 2013. But, not for lack of searching for a new job. "It's a lot of rejection," says Rouse. Rouse is among the long-term unemployed in Ohio. During the 13 months she's been looking for a new job, she received unemployment benefits. But, her last check arrived three weeks ago, on December 28th. And it's uncertain whether Congress will again extend benefits.

"I have zero income right now, zero," Rouse says. "So, this is the first month things haven't been paid yet. Plus I've been approved for Medicaid and well that's humbling, really, to have to, to have go that route."

During her first lengthy period of unemployment Rouse says she couldn't pay anyone to read her resume. She went back to school, earned a second Masters degree in information systems management. That helped her get a full time job in her field as a project worker. But, she was laid off again at the end of 2012. Since then, she's been actively looking for work. That's a requirement for anyone receiving jobless benefits and it's why Rouse bristles at late night characterizations of the jobless. "They're out of touch with reality at that point. I want to work. And I want to grow. And I really want to contribute and build a career and it's been difficult," says Rouse. Rouse is among 1-point 3 million Americans who lost jobless benefits at the end of December. But, Ben Johnson at the Department of Job and Family Services says the state does NOT keep count of the number of Ohioans included in that figure. "It's not something that our regular employment data quantifies," says Johnson. One concern among economists is whether more of the long-term unemployed will quit looking for work and drop out of the labor force. Rouse says that's not an option for her. After a year without a job she has run out of financial options. "Between Christmas money from last year to tax returns and selling some jewelry and cashing out my small 401K from my last full time job I've been able to kind of squeak on by, oh and Christmas money from this year. Now I've hit that point where the cash flow has stopped," says Rouse. And without any cash flow, Rouse says its more difficult to stay marketable. Within weeks she could face what she calls the most difficult decision. "I'm going to have to strongly consider getting rid of my stuff and maybe moving in with family or something along those lines," adds Rouse. Rouse vows to keep looking for a job. Though she'd prefer to stay in Columbus, She's begun sending resumes to companies in San Antonio and Phoenix among other cities.