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Newly hired Americans emerge out of '2 year nightmare' as U.S. economy adds more jobs

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

The U.S. added more than 300,000 jobs to the economy last month. That's on top of more than a half-million new jobs added in July and on top of millions and millions of new jobs since COVID lockdowns, when unemployment rose to its highest rate in recorded history. To hear the stories behind those numbers, we reached out to three people who recently got hired.

ERIC GIBSON: As an artist, I was being really fulfilled, had a lot of freelance work.

RASCOE: Work in early 2020, Eric Gibson was teaching opera at a university in Arizona.

GIBSON: Which was a dream to teach young singers. And then with the pandemic, it just disappeared. You know, I lost my job. And opera companies and theater companies - you know, just like Broadway - everything was shut down. So it was just devastating.

RASCOE: Regina Holloway of Atlanta had a very different kind of job when she was laid off just ahead of the pandemic.

REGINA HOLLOWAY: I didn't work a job that you could come in office and put your coffee down and get your emails together, do this, do this. Soon as I step a foot on campus and they see me there, it was bombarded. Miss Regina, I need this. I need that. It was just really getting too much for me.

RASCOE: She had been working at a homeless shelter on the front lines of strangers' stress and heartbreak. So even though she lost her paycheck, getting fired was a blessing in disguise.

HOLLOWAY: My concern was I couldn't mentally handle going back into the type of work that I was doing.

NATHANIEL MCLEAN: My name is Nathaniel McLean. I am 33. I reside in Staten Island, N.Y.

RASCOE: McLean was in college when the first of his four daughters was born. He dropped out and started in on a decade's worth of odd jobs to cover the rising bills - McDonald's, Kmart, roofing and siding. He did them all. And he says they all led him nowhere.

MCLEAN: You're just, like, stuck. You know, you sit there. You bust your behind. You know, you're there on time. Your salary don't go up. You know, just - jobs is jobs. But, sometimes, some of them - they won't allow you to grow in them.

RASCOE: For a few months, McLean coasted on unemployment.

MCLEAN: During the pandemic, everything was, you know, shut down. We was all in the house, growing afros. And, you know (laughter), like most people, took that time to really try to rediscover themselves.

RASCOE: He connected with a nonprofit called STRIVE that helped him get job training and work on building a career rather than just getting a job. Meanwhile, Regina Holloway had tucked away a little savings and did her homework on how to make it last.

HOLLOWAY: Let me give you a little glimpse. I would just Google anything - financial workshop, financial literacy. And that's how I ended up getting a lot of my financial knowledge.

RASCOE: By this point, the economy was improving, but Eric Gibson was still caught in a cycle of Zoom interviews and rejections.

GIBSON: To be honest, when I would hear those positive job reports, the little devil, you know, on my shoulder would say, well, where's my job? Although I was happy for the millions of people who were recovering, of course, I just wanted that positive wave to rush over me, as well.

RASCOE: Gibson said he worried that being older than 50 put him at a disadvantage.

GIBSON: How do you get the perfect job again after you've been looking for it for almost a decade?

RASCOE: Finally, finally, he got a phone call from the Ohio State University. You're hired.

GIBSON: Not to be melodramatic, but it kind of felt like a two-year nightmare was over.

HOLLOWAY: It's totally different. It's totally different.

RASCOE: Regina Halloway got good news, too. She's now in training for a customer service job at the IRS.

HOLLOWAY: Even though it's a lot of information, it's a lot of support. And I like that, feeling that cushion of support. Everyone's smiling, even the cleanup crew. It's just, like, a very friendly environment. That's good for me.

RASCOE: For Nathaniel McLean, his new chapter has come at the Mount Sinai Hospital, where he's now working as a patient transporter. That's on top of a night shift at the Home Depot he says he needs to pay for food and utilities and diapers. When does he rest?

MCLEAN: I don't know what sleep is, man. I mean, I have no choice but to grind out.

RASCOE: This time, though, he thinks the grind will pay off.

MCLEAN: Not only am I in a union, but I have to just wait another six more months of me being in the hospital system, and they'll go ahead and pay for my education for me to go into med school, which I intend to do. And especially in a hospital setting, you always climb up the ladder.

GIBSON: It's wonderful to have a job, and I just feel fortunate to be among colleagues again. And there's a reason people are drawn to teach, and that's the energy you get from the students. And so I obviously get that every day.

HOLLOWAY: With the IRS, I feel like I'm on a football field, and I got this option. I can do this. I can do that. I can do that. So it's a lot of ways for me to learn different things, the different departments. And I'm 50, so hopefully, I'll retire from there (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RASCOE: Regina Halloway, Eric Gibson and Nathaniel McLean. With the August report, the government says there are now 200,000 more nonfarm jobs than there were before the pandemic.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.