Worker's odyssey reflects scope of the downturn, budding recovery

May. 27, 2014 @ 08:04 AM

Scott White sits at the desk of his small office lit by sunshine, cherishing the job he loves while surrounded by pages of construction plans spread across a long, rectangular table.

But during the height of the Great Recession, the 43-year-old graduate of T. Wingate Andrews High School coped with mind-numbing unemployment and wondered if he would ever find another fulfilling job in the construction field.
There were moments that he broke down emotionally at the High Point home he shares with his wife and two children, as he made countless phone calls and sent out electronic streams of resumes without any response from employers. White went two years without solid employment or often no work at all ­— for the first time in his life, he coped with the trauma of being without a paycheck while desperately searching for a steady job.
“The frustrating thing for me is I went from being in high demand to where I couldn’t give myself away,” he told The High Point Enterprise.
White symbolizes what’s happened with the economy in the past six years in the wake of the Great Recession and the onset of a budding, if fragile, recovery.
He experienced his first layoff just as the housing and financial industries were imploding, then began to see some glimmers of hope for a new, steady job two years later as key economic sectors started to improve incrementally.
As he examines construction site plans at the Greensboro office of Precision Walls Inc. near Piedmont Triad International Airport, White said that he appreciates — more than he ever imagined — having a good-paying job in his chosen profession.

Economy nosedives

White had a steady track record of good jobs dating back to when he was a young man starting in the trade. He secured a job about a week after earning his degree in construction management from East Carolina University a little more than 20 years ago. Once he got the first job in his career field, he remained employed steadily until the recession put a stranglehold on the local and national economy.
White’s first hint that his personal fortunes — and those of the American economy — were about to nosedive appeared six years ago. He was working for a former employer who had prospered for years, but suddenly began having a cash-flow problem.
“The bids (on projects) were getting tighter and the jobs weren’t making money,” he said.
White shifted to a job with another business, worried about the immediate future of his previous employer.
“That went great for about a year,” he said. “Then when housing and everything died, the work just stopped.”
Five years ago, White experienced something that he never expected as a young man grasping his degree from East Carolina University — he was laid off.
White initially found another job working for a subcontractor of a previous employer.
“I went from project management in an office setting to working behind a concrete grinding machine. My pay was cut about in half,” he said.
Even that job only lasted a short period before White faced another layoff.

Emotional low point

For two years, White struggled to find any leads for any type of job in his field. The experience wore him down emotionally — usually an upbeat, optimistic person, White found himself losing his temper uncontrollably and snapping at loved ones in conversations.
“I did some odds-and-ends jobs, but I didn’t feel like I was supporting my family like I should have,” he said. “I look back now and realize I probably was depressed. You do a lot of questioning of who you are, what you’ve done — were you really good at what you did? You would send out resumes and hear nothing.”
The lowest points for White came when he was alone in a room at his home, trying to figure out options to find a steady job. There were moments when, without warning, he would break down emotionally in despair.
“For me to do that was just unheard of,” he said.

Reason for hope

Finally, in the summer of 2011 as the local and national economy were showing signs of turning, White began to see some reason for a bud of optimism. He finally started getting responses from employers.
“I started having four or five interviews. I said to myself, ‘This is great,’ ” White said.
Three years ago, White finally secured a new, full-time job. Then, as the economy continued to improve, he started to receive more offers through his connections in the construction trade.
“I went from being in no demand to suddenly having choices,” he said.
A little more than a year ago, White took an offer from Precision Walls for his current job. He’s back emotionally and professionally to where he was six years ago before the economy collapsed. But he acknowledges the experience has changed his views of work and life.
“I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing,” he said. “The thing that this has done — there’s not a day I don’t appreciate the job that I have.”

pjohnson@hpe.com | 888-3528