Bringing the Economy Home

Jobless In Idaho: Single Mom Budgets to Keep Family Afloat

Molly Messick / StateImpact Idaho

Kelly Barker, a single mother from Meridian, has been out of work since April.

Name: Kelly Barker

Age: 46

Unemployed since: April 2011

“Every day that I get in my car to go volunteer, I pray and cross my fingers that it starts, because I don’t have anything to fall back on.”

The Idaho Department of Labor estimates nearly 70,000 people in the state don’t have jobs.  That doesn’t include thousands more who are underemployed or have stopped looking for work.  This is the latest story in our “Jobless in Idaho” series, that follows several Idahoans in their search for work.

Jobless In Idaho: Single Mom Budgets to Keep Family Afloat

Kelly Barker remembers pleading for her first job.  She was twelve years old, and she wanted to buy a Pentax camera.  “It was very expensive, and I remember begging for that job at a Tastee-Freez,” she said.  “Finally, when the owner got tired of me begging every day, he gave me the job.  I’ve worked ever since.”

Barker, 46, says that history of taking care of herself makes her current situation especially hard.  This is the first time she’s ever struggled to find work.  Since earning her undergraduate degree from Boise State University, she’s held a range of jobs.

She oversaw a three-state region as a sales manager for a hair products company.  She was a manager at Bath & Body Works.  In the wake of a divorce, she quickly found a job as a branch office administrator in the local office of an investment company.  It was that job that she lost in April.  For months now, she’s been searching and applying for work, mainly HR and administrative positions.  Over the summer, she began volunteering at the local courthouse, and she’s pursuing a license in conflict resolution.  She’s hopeful that all of this effort will turn into a job, but so far, she’s had only three interviews.

Without work, Barker and her eight-year-old daughter get by on a combination of unemployment insurance benefits and food stamps.  She says it isn’t easy.  “It was probably the latter part of June when I had that ‘wow’ moment. That on-my-knees, what-am-I-going-to-do moment,” she said.  “I think when I didn’t have enough money for food … is when it really started to hit me.”

She and her daughter have had to make changes to live on their limited income.  Barker says she budgets just under $5 a day for food for both of them.  In the summer, she grew vegetables in the backyard, the first time she’d ever had a garden.  When she and her daughter are going to be away from home for the day, she packs meals.  She keeps the temperature in her home set at 66 degrees and times her daughter in the shower, to save on utility costs.  She recently began looking for a roommate.  Barker says it’s the ‘what-ifs’ that make her worry.  “What if my car breaks down, or if I get sick?” she said.  “I don’t have the money to do it.  I am that tight.  I have enough to pay my house payment and to pay my utilities and to put food on the table.”

Despite all of this, Barker says she’s thankful for what she does have.  She has a large family, and supportive friends.  Her car is paid off, and she has no credit card debt.  She doesn’t have health insurance, but her ex-husband was able to include their daughter on his plan.  “I’m fortunate that I do appreciate the basics in life,” she said.  “My daughter, she’s used to making mud pies in the backyard.  She’s used to riding her bike and going camping in a tent.  I’m really proud that I’ve instilled that in her.  She’s used to things that don’t cost a lot of money.”

For Barker, more challenges lie ahead.  Her unemployment insurance benefits will expire at the end of this month.  At that point, she says, she’ll have to tap into her small retirement account and ask family members for help.  “I’ve been blessed with so many things, but I really just want a job,” she said.  “It’s not a lack of trying or looking.  There have been remarks in the press lately about people collecting the check and not looking for work, and I have to say I don’t believe that for one minute.”

We’ll continue to follow Kelly Barker and other participants in StateImpact Idaho’s “Jobless in Idaho” series.


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