They had every reason to believe their government careers were steeped in security. Then, on Dec. 1, they were told the investment pool had lost $1.5 billion. Within a week, county government filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. The prospect of layoffs became clear three days before Christmas.
Nearly 200 Orange County employees have since lost their jobs, as the Board of Supervisors scrambles to slash costs. By summer, their numbers could increase fivefold.
What follows are the personal stories of 50 laid-off county workers, who must rebuild their lives because of mistakes made by someone else.
Below are their stories, as told to Times staff writers Lee Romney, Rebecca Trounson, Ching-Ching Ni, Tina Nguyen, Lily Dizon and David Haldane, with correspondents Geoff Boucher and Catherine Gewertz.
PAUL SHERIDAN, 51
Job: Senior systems planning analyst, with county eight years.
Personal: Salary: $68,000. Married with four children. Facing foreclosure on home.
Impact: "The county stopped medical benefits for the whole family. It would cost us $470 a month to keep them. My little boy now, he has an earache. Before, we'd just say, 'OK, put him in the car and take him to Kaiser.' Now, I don't even know where to go. . . So you hope maybe he'll get better. My wife did find a part-time job. Before we got married, she was a counselor. Now she's helping with abused children. What I do is I become Mom. Believe me, being a mom for three days a week while she's working is a full-time job.
"It's tough. You go out looking, you get hopeful, and you don't find anything that comes close to where you can use your talents. You get kind of down. It's been a roller coaster. Sometimes you're with your family and don't have all the patience that you once had. I look back and say, 'Why did I just snap at the kids? Why was I not listening to my wife?'
"It's not a fun time. In the back of your mind, even when you're playing with the kids, you're always wondering: 'What can I be doing next, where can I be checking? What can I be doing . . . now!'
"Our boss was summoned to the director's office. We knew something unusual was happening. He came in with a very down look on his face and kind of gave a thumbs down. About 45 minutes later, the director comes in. She said, 'Well, you have three hours to leave, so pack everything up.' That's kind of a shocker being professionals and 'part of the county family.'
"You'd think they'd give you at least a couple of weeks to make a smooth transition. I was working on a lot of contracts with outside vendors for data systems. They watched over us, told us to turn in our passwords to the different computers. Maybe there's a reason, but it really hurt because it felt like a distrust. It was raining cats and dogs and I was carrying my boxes home and I was soaking wet. I was trying to get home and there was a detour. I thought they should have let us wrap things up in a professional manner. We had a lot of important paperwork. I wanted to make sure that someone knows where it is."
Next: "Like a lot of people I've got a lot of leads, a lot of possibilities, but no offers. . . . I'm trying to find a job with a reasonable income, then I get this offer for a part-time job as a pager in the library. It hurts."
LAP DOAN, 51
Job: Custodian, with county three months.
Personal: Salary: $14,996. Single. Four children.
Impact: "I've had to reduce everything. I don't make much money. During our seven years (in Huntington Beach), we've survived on my low income. I've never bought anything for more than $500, except for our washing machine.
"My kids want to take driving classes, but we don't have a car available for them to practice on. I'm not sure whether I can afford the lessons at this point. I feel bad because they really want to learn. But it's not a good time.
"I'm thinking about moving to Dallas, because the cost of living there is much lower. My niece keeps offering her home to me and my children. I want to go, but the kids don't want to leave their schools. Since we left Vietnam, we've always lived in this house."
Next: "I'm trying hard to find any other cleaning job with a second shift. Just as long as I can schedule my work around my children and eventually get insurance and Social Security, we will be fine. I'm even considering manicure work so that I can find the money to raise my children properly."
DIANE BOUCHARD, 34
Job: Property agent in GSA real estate division, with county 13 years.
Personal: Salary: $35,000. Husband is a county appraiser. Two preschool-age children. Expects to start a new job next week.
Impact: "It's a secretarial position for a property management firm. It pays $28,000. I'm not happy that I have to take a pay cut, but that's kind of the reality. Nobody's got any money. It's an entry-level position. It's a really very stable, reliable company.
"We're living in a very cheap apartment. When we knew the layoffs might be coming we paid off my car. We closed escrow on our house Dec. 1 and were planning on buying a bigger house. We put off buying the house. I had to fire my baby-sitter. What I've done now is rehire her part time.
"When I heard about the 1,040 new layoffs, I just started crying. I just can't bear to think of other people going through what I've gone through."
Next: "I'm really excited about going to work for these people. It's like, 'Oh my God, I'm working again. Somebody wants me.' It's so demoralizing, the whole job searching process. You get a lot of rejection letters."
TONY CARSTENS, 51
Job: Director of policy research and planning department, with county 17 years. Laid off along with nearly 40 of his staff.
Personal: Salary: $97,000. Married; two adult children.
Impact: "I went to a meeting (of department heads) where they passed out envelopes with the names of the people being laid off. . . When they handed my envelope to someone else, I knew I was dead. Sitting there in that meeting and not having people make eye contact with me for 45 minutes, it wasn't hard to figure out. It was easier for me to get the boot myself than to break the news to my staff, some of whom I had worked with and respected for 10, 15 years.
"A year ago, I thought I was set up for life. I was probably putting away $10,000 a year in deferred compensation, but some of that got hung up in the bankruptcy. We have a nest egg, but we couldn't foresee this happening. For now, we're not buying anything or planning vacations--not that big of change, we didn't live lavishly anyway--but our concern lies with the long-term future."
"I'm trying not to dwell on what's happened, what's changed in my life. A friend of my says, 'In life, sometimes you're the bug, sometimes you're the windshield.' I feel like the bug this time."
Next: "I got laid off on a Wednesday, and the next day I was shooting out to the desert for a (Southern California Area Governments) seminar and I passed out my resume to all these people.
"You know, things had been so miserable at the county for the last three months, this isn't hard to take at all. I just have to get on with life. This is the first time I've been unemployed since high school. It's weird."
AL WILLIAMS, 44
Job: Senior systems analyst, with county 11 years.
Personal: Salary: $66,000. Divorced.
Impact: "There was no warning. Everyone, no matter what your seniority was, was given the same severance and placed on administrative leave. That's terrible, after (County Administrative Officer) Ernie Schneider gets six months pay and we were given two weeks administrative leave, with no warning.
"The fact that they decided to wait until after Christmas was very bad. I've had the biggest Christmas I've probably ever had. I spent a lot. That added insult to injury. People spent their money and then the bills came in Jan. 4. They had told us in December that we might have to worry come March. Then they laid us off in January. I thought it was extremely poor planning and distasteful.
"I will live on my savings. I'm lucky that I have some, and I'll use unemployment. Fortunately I had not allowed myself to be overextended. The big thing is I have no medical insurance and I have to figure out a way to get some. The county plan is just too expensive."
Next: "I've done some fairly extensive job hunting. They're all saying, 'You're going to have a hell of a time finding a job.' Businesses don't want anyone who had anything to do with Orange County.
"People are generally very mad and upset. When you say Orange County, you can see their blood pressure rising. They'd like to effectively strike back at the supervisors. If you could line the supervisors all up to give them a punch, the line would go around the world."
WILMA RUTH PERRY, 49
Job: County's only clinical social worker making house calls to mothers with high-risk infants. With county 23 years.
Personal: Single. One adult child.
Impact: " I really question how the county is going to cover what I did. It's difficult for me to understand the thinking of the people who made this decision. The counseling services are almost nil in the county.
"It's going to be very difficult to meet expenses. If I didn't have a new car, it wouldn't be so bad. I have a leaky roof that started with all the recent rains. I have no clue how I'm going to get that taken care of. I've been trying to get up early and keep occupied. I have been somewhat addicted to O.J. (Simpson trial). I try to, you know, get some exercise, look for a job and do stuff around the house. I've slept more than I should, though, I confess."
Next: "I'm working at (area hospitals) filling in for (social workers) on vacation. But I've only got eight days of work scheduled so far. I'm looking for work, but I'm a homeowner here in Orange County so I'd like to stay close."
HELENA CLIFT, 66
Job: Clerk/typist for the Health Care Agency, with county eight years.
Personal: Salary: about $25,000. Divorced. Three grown children.
Impact: "I was laid off Jan. 24. It's so painful to talk about it. The supervisor stood over me as I cleaned out my desk. She even said, 'Don't forget to give us the coffee club money!' It was the worst rainstorm this year. I walked out the door with her behind me. She just left me there in the rain. My car almost drowned coming back home.
"I was told not to speak to anyone, just get out. It was like I was a criminal.
"Being laid off at 66, it's hard to get work. You tell me how I'm going to get along from now on?"
"I have proved I am better than a temp even though I put my name in a temporary agency. I got two listings through the Human Resources office. One was in a laundry. I'd have to pick up 50 pounds of laundry, dry it and put it away. The other was in a school taking care of little ones, changing diapers and burping them at night. But I've paid my dues working at night. Why should I have to take a night job at 66? I loved my job. But not anymore. They pick on older people. Nothing we could do was correct. I could work rings around most of the kids down there!"
Next: "I'm on a two year waiting list with the county. But I probably won't be called back because of my age. I've put in for Social Security. I'm going to start my own business. I'm going to make Easter hats for children and adults at home and sell them to stores. I love to knit. I keep myself busy doing this when I'm not out looking for work."
BILL GREY, 50
Job: Senior projects manager in GSA's facilities operations, with county two years.
Personal: Salary, $48,000. Married with one child.
Impact: "My daughter is a senior at El Toro High School. She's been accepted to two colleges out of state, and we were planning to take her to see them. But now I haven't got any money to send her to college. She's absolutely devastated, and I can't blame her. She's trying very hard to understand.
"We are rather conservative in our fiscal expenditures; we can make the house payment, but we don't go out to eat anymore. You don't do things that cost any money other than things that are specifically job-related."
Next: "The job of finding a job is a full-time job. I have toyed with the idea of going into business for myself as a consultant, but then you have to bang on doors and get clients. I'm afraid it'll be tough to translate county experience to the private sector. A lot of private industry is going to look at somebody who's been with the county with a jaundiced eye. We just have to deal with that prejudice."
ALISON NATHAN, 41
Job: Clinical psychologist, part-time. With the county 11 years.
Personal: Salary: $56,000. Married.
Impact: "For me this has been a blessing in disguise. I think a lot of my anger is gone. I have other options, good ones, unlike a lot of the people over there at the county who have to cope with the anxiety of wondering when the ax is going to fall. I just feel for the people whose lives are being wrecked by all this.
"It's had very little impact on my life. I'll have to purchase health-care benefits individually now, that's about it."
Next: "I'm going to build my private practice. I'm just sorry I won't be able to work with the patients who, through the county, had been able to attain some valuable help. Now those people will be deprived of a valuable and important contact with a psychologist.
"I have a pretty poor opinion of the way they've handled everything. It seems easier for them to find scapegoats to blame than it has been to find answers and solutions to these serious problems. Mistakes made at the top have really had a ripple effect on the average civil servant."
MANUCHEHR YAZDI, 62
Job: Research analyst working with computer systems, with county 14 years.
Personal: Salary: about $50,000. Married; two children, two grandchildren.
Impact: "I am not going to die, but it's a very difficult time for me. My wife got sick last year. We went to Toronto to visit my wife's family and went on a Bahai pilgrimage to Israel. I exhausted all of my savings. I have now borrowed some from relatives. I never spent money on credit cards in my life, but because of the trip, I had spent about $2,000. I don't know how I can pay it. I cannot make the mortgage. Because of that I have to sell the house. My wife is working, but she makes less than $10 an hour. She works as an account clerk.
"Our income is less than our expenses. We should file a bankruptcy.
"I lost my retirement (in Iran) when I ran away and came here, because of my Bahai religion. This is the second time that has happened to me. Several times my son and daughter said to me: 'Go and look for job in a university.' I said, 'This (county job ) is a stable job.' "
Next: "Right now the kitchen is my office. I am looking hard for a job. I finished three days training program (at the state Employment Development Department). And I am volunteering with the EDD's Experience Unlimited Club four hours a week. Some of them are aerospace engineers, some laid off from the county. They get training how to make a resume, how to search the library, how to network, how to negotiate for salary. All the teaching is done by the voluntary people. I am in a department of marketing. We call companies and ask if there are job openings. I think I found a job for one lady. We are helping each other. One thing I learned over there is it's not me only. There are many people who have been laid off. They are good quality. Sometimes I think, 'Maybe something is wrong with me. I am not a good person.' But this has helped. People helping other people."
MARIA MENDOZA, 65
Job: Homeless issues coordinator, with county 12 years.
Personal: Salary, $45,000. Single, four adult children.
Impact: "It's funny, when I sat in the office and heard the news all I could think about was the armory program (which provides shelter for the homeless), and who was going to make the decisions and keep the program going . . . . Guess the question that should have popped into my head was about my own financial status, but all that occurred to me was my work. It's not that I'm a martyr or anything; it's just the situation is more complicated than one person losing their job.
"It was bad the morning after I got laid off because I woke up early and realized I didn't have a job to go to. It was a very lost and lonely feeling. I've worked practically all my life, and it was such an unsettling feeling... . I went to see 'Forrest Gump' with my son that day."
Next: "I need to decide whether I can retire, where I'm going to cut and how I'm going to get by. I think about it late at night, and I worry about it. I need to figure out if I'm going to be destitute."
RICHARD ROBERTS, 39
Job: custodian, with county 13 years.
Personal: Single. Lives with parents. Was on disability, with arthritic knees, when laid off.
Impact: "I've really not found any 40-hour jobs. I used to get about $12 an hour. It'll take time before I can make that much again. I have to start with $6 to $7 an hour. I was working in the evenings. Now I work my own hours. I have to put off getting my car fixed and buying new clothes.
"In Orange County it's not that hard to find jobs in telemarketing or canvassing. I'm working with a home-based environmental company. I do sales by commission. I was selling cellular telephones or car phones. I sold about seven in the last two months or so. I'm also selling shoes for Mason Shoes from a catalogue. I call people up or ask my friends. They're dress shoes or walking shoes, any kind of shoes.
"The whole building (where I worked) looks like it's going to go down. It's just a matter of time. No one will do the dusting when there's only about five to 10 people left there. They would have to contract out because there's an impossible amount of work to be done."
Next: "I'm not on unemployment. I've applied for disability retirement which I should be getting in the next few months."
GAIL B. MOWRY, 53
Job: recruiter for Personnel department, with county 14 years.
Personal: Salary: $34,000. Divorced, 3 grown children.
Impact: "I've always been a government worker. I started off as a teacher, a worker for the state, the city and then the county. I loved my job, its diversity.
"At the time I was laid off, I was on disability. On Dec. 20, I think, I was working in the Hall of Administration when I slipped and fell on some debris. The person who found me was (Supervisor) Gaddi Vasquez. I fractured a vertebrae and am still on disability, but I'm not recovering very well. My boss was calling me daily to see how I was doing. Then one day, I got a personal call about the dismissal before I received the letter.
"My daughter, who lives with me, is pregnant. I wish I were more financially secure to offer her more support. She moved in just temporarily, but she may stay longer to help me out. My other daughter was married right after the (county's) bankruptcy. I wasn't able to help her out as much as I would have liked."
Next: "Once I get over this back injury, I'll have a better idea of what to do. I'm thinking about doing resume work for people. Or maybe offering services for smaller businesses that can't afford their own recruiter. The problem is I can't sit in one place for longer than 20 minutes. I need to lay down regularly. I'm thinking about working out of my home. It's sort of difficult to see what the end product will be on my back. My basic concerns now are my age and the history of my back problems. I'm a little too old to start over."
LAURA DENNISON, 49
Job: Administrative manager in Personnel, with county 19 years.
Personal: Salary: $66,000. Married; one child.
Impact: "In my case I wasn't laid off per se. They announced to everyone that if they left by Jan. 10 that they would be able to keep their accrued vacation and sick time. For me that was more than 500 hours, so I didn't want to risk losing it.
"In years past, when someone left, we had a little farewell party for them or just a get-together, something to acknowledge their work. It was very demoralizing to not get that acknowledgment. To just put your stuff in your car and drive off--it makes you feel empty, like everything was cut short. I've never been in a divorce, but I liken it to that. I still go by to see some of my friends at the county, and they tell me how lucky I am to be out of there because the situation is so bad. For a lot of employees, (all this has been) like being hit in the stomach.
"We keep a closer eye on our money. I don't just buy clothes; I stop and think, 'Do I need this?' This has brought out some different family values for my family. We spend more time now doing the things that don't cost money, but are valuable. We spend more time with our friends; we have potlucks instead of going out. We have more social contacts now, for support.
Next: "I'm involved in some networking groups. I've been in touch with some other counties where I have friends. Beginning next month I'll get retirement benefits, which will help.
"I'm very positive about the whole thing. I'm proud of the work I did there. Now it's time to move on to something else, hopefully something better."
GAYLE CLEIGH, 51
Job: Supervised the county's outpatient alcohol programs for 11 years, with county 18 years.
Personal: Salary, about $54,000. Husband is retired. She has sued county over firing.
Impact: "I have an autoimmune illness . . . . From October through December I was in and out of the hospital so many times fighting fevers. I got the call from my boss on the night before New Year's Eve. I was supposed to go back to work on the 9th of January. He told me that on the 10th of January the board would be approving the layoff list and that I would probably be on it. What they did to me was just cruel. It was brutal, and it was opportunistic, and I think they're doing it to other people.
"My husband only gets $400 a month. I really was the sole support, my county job and what I brought in from my private practice, evenings and weekends. One of the reasons I stayed with the county when I had better offers was because of the stability. I don't want to file for bankruptcy. I've got my house, and it took me years to get it. Fortunately we don't have expensive tastes."
Next: "I want another job if the county won't take me back. I'm determined that I don't want to turn into a vegetable. I hope to expand my private counseling practice."
CHARLES LUS, 51
Job: Facilities operations project manager, with county six years.
Personal: Salary, $47,000. Married; one adult child.
Impact: "Five minutes before I was ready to leave for the day, my boss came up and told me I was laid off. I guess they don't like to give you time to goof off. Actually, they laid me off twice. They sent me home in January, then they called me back to say I was back on. I only stayed back for three days.
"They've been arrogant and ignorant, which is business as usual for these people. Instead of treating the county like a public trust, they've acted like spoiled little kids who have inherited the store from their parents.
"My wife has a good job; she was making more than me anyway, and I'm collecting unemployment. We're keeping an eye on the money we spend; no capricious expenses."
Next: "I've sent out several hundred resumes, but things are tough. I had the right to appeal the layoff, but I didn't. I wouldn't take my job, or any job, back from the county. I don't want anything to do with those people."
THOMAS CRIPPS, 58.
Job: Research analyst for CAO's office, with county eight years. Was laid off, reinstated, then laid off again.
Personal: Salary: $54,000. Single.
Impact: "I had a heart failure a year ago and I have a pacemaker and that means constant maintenance. My medical expenses now are $300 a month. I have to work in order to make the money to pay insurance.
"I'm used to hard times. I'll just work at anything. My solution is to work until I die.
"The research and demographic function, we form a unique team. It's something I don't think the county is going to appreciate until a few years down the line. Then it will be too late. The work will probably be done by some consultant for twice the price."
Next: "I'm surviving on existing savings at the moment but I know that's not going to be permanent. I'm just hoping that some job comes up."
ED ROBB, 42
Job: GSA Project manager overseeing capital projects, with county four months.
Personal: Divorced; four children.
Impact: "I was hoping to do some maintenance to the house, but that's postponed. Everything has been pushed back unless it's for basic survival. The kids' birthdays come along and I can't do the things I used to do for them.
"I quit a job to come here, a good job, too. Four months later and I'm out of work. I really, really enjoyed the job during the short time there, and I was told they were really pleased with me. I feel cheated, to tell the truth.
"I understand what's been done and why it was done. I know it wasn't a reflection of my performance, it was things beyond my control. You got to play the cards you're dealt. You got to regroup and move forward. You have to have a positive attitude, especially if you want to sell yourself to another employer."
Next: "Nothing concrete in the way of job prospects, but I'm leaving no stone unturned."
TIEN NGUYEN, 57
Job: custodian, six years with county.
Personal: Salary: $24,600. Married. Three children.
Impact: "My children are now attending CSU Fullerton and Long Beach. They pay for their schooling through work study. They're talking about finding additional jobs. My wife's never really worked and she's now looking for a job too. We're living off my savings now. I don't know how long it'll last us. We'll manage though if we live under meager, Vietnamese standards. I have relatives who just arrived from Vietnam. They're living with other family members, but I wanted to help them out when they came. But now that doesn't seem possible."
Next: "I've put in about more than 10 applications to other manual labor. When I was in Vietnam, I was in the army for most of my life. Then I was imprisoned in the (Communist) re-education camp for several years before I escaped to the U.S. I have no skills to get me a better job. My options are limited."
TONY ESPARZA, 51
Job: Principal technical systems specialist, with county nine years.
Personal: Salary: $68,000. Married; one grown son.
Impact: "I lost a lot of sleep for weeks. I went to the doctor, and he indicated that it was due to stress and worry. My blood pressure started acting up. He told me to exercise. I'm working on it every day. I was in limbo for a very long time there in terms of deciding whether or not to sell the house. I had a real estate agent here and he did not give me any good news at all. Houses like my house here two years ago were selling for $420,000. Right now, he told me that the most I'd be able to get out of it is $290,000. That's horrible. I'd have to take a big loss. It would all be taxable. What I'm going to have to do is hang on as long as I can.
"I'm collecting unemployment, but it's not even enough to make one house payment."
Next: "I had a delayed reaction in getting started. I'm still in limbo. I'm only looking now because I don't feel anything's going on (with my appeal). I have probably sent out 50-plus resumes already. I'm getting these little acknowledgment cards, but for senior positions you just don't have people walking in the front door. Orange County and the Inland Empire are the two areas I'm focused on right now. I think my job skills will help me find something, but it doesn't excuse what happened, the condition they put me in, the aggravation and the effect on my family."
BRIAN HELVEY, 43
Job: CAO planner, eight years with county.
Personal: Salary: $48,500. Single.
Impact: "I went through three phases: First, I had to go through the shock, the hurt. I just crawled into bed and cried a lot. Second, I thought things through. I took time off. Left town to rethink my future. This was more than just losing my job; this is a career change for me. I have to look at the private sector now. I'm a planning policy person. I've got a really good portfolio, but is it going to get any attention in this area? This was extra hard for me because me because my mother had just died last November, one month before the bankruptcy was declared. It was like having both of my legs cut off from below me. The timing couldn't have been worse. But now I'm in the third phase. I've got my resume, lists and contacts. And I'm just going to go out there and slam on it."
Next: "I just bought a new house last June. I'm just staring at the payments. I have a little fund from my life insurance policy and I've got a good savings. I can kind of keep things afloat here for a while. But in a few months, if by June I don't find a job, I'm going to have to lease my place and perhaps move to Sacramento or Washington D.C. My skills are suited to an area like Sacramento, but I don't want to leave Orange County. This is my home."
SAMOUEN CHHAY, 59
Job: HCA agency community worker, translator and bilingual educator for primarily the Cambodian community; 10 years with county.
Personal: Salary: $24,000. Widowed, two grown sons.
Impact: "I was surprised because ever since I've worked with the county, I've never had any problems. I feel upset because I don't believe it's my time to leave. I thought people who had been there for a shorter time would be asked to leave. But that wasn't the case. They kept the young people. I felt punished for my age and not my performance. I loved my job. I like to help people. I became close to some of my clients. Some of them still call me at home.
"My children have offered to help pay for my car finances. But I said no, I can take care of myself. I'll just have to cut spending."
Next: "I want to find some clinical or community work, but there are so few places. It's not easy to find a job at my age. But I have to work, I love to work."
"The county's tried to help, but they've only offered suggestions that aren't compatible with me. They told me there was work at a convalescent home in Anaheim . . . (where) they asked if I was willing to change the patients' beds, clean their rooms. I told them that's not for me. I understand health policies and issues. I can do a lot for my people. I was a nurse, a midwife back home in Cambodia. I was trained and licensed. But not here. Here, I have no skills."
DOUGLAS CUNNINGHAM, 42
Job: Buyer for GSA, with county two years.
Personal: Salary, $34,000. Divorced; one child.
Impact: "I was kind of depressed for the first couple of weeks. I lay around and watched TV. It was raining a lot and there wasn't too much to do anyway. It's hard to make the transition--not as easy as I thought it would be. I'm redoing my finances, looking at ways of coping with the loss of income. I'm volunteering my services to a homeless shelter."
"I really can't maintain my child support payments now. It will impact some of the things my daughter can do."
Next: "I'm collecting unemployment and looking at working in some manufacturing sector of the economy. I have some prospects. I'm also thinking of making a career change, maybe going back to school."
JEFF HENDERSON, 34
Job: Facilities project manager for GSA, with county four years.
Personal: Salary, $48,500. Married. Two children. Recently moved to Portland alone.
Impact: "We were looking at really serious cutbacks and were thinking of all of us moving in with my mother-in-law in Las Vegas. We were going to try to rent our condo out, probably take a $200 a month loss. And our credit card debt has really swelled in the last few weeks; we're up to about $10,000 now.
"I had a temporary job at McDonnell Douglas but got called the Friday before I was supposed to start. They said the position was on hold. I called a friend in Portland. I had talked to him about a temporary job and asked him if it was still open. I got it and it pays a little better than the county, but I don't have any benefits. I'll also be paying for two houses, and with my family in Southern California, it's really going to be hard on them, and on me. My daughter saw me off at the airport; she was crying. My son keeps asking when I'll be home."
Next: "I'm going to arbitration on the whole thing. In my case, I believe it was wrongful termination, that it was a matter of favoritism."
SHERYL KERWITZ, 29
Job: Office assistant at recorder's office, with county five years.
Personal: Salary, $25,584. Married.
Impact: "We were planning to have a baby, but thanks to the layoffs we can't afford to have one now. We felt ready to have kids, but it's not possible without the insurance benefits. Our first priority is to meet our house payment, which is about $1,000 a month. We just got a loan approved to pay off our credit cards and now we're wondering if we can make the loan payments. My husband's in construction and with the rains, he hasn't gotten much work.
"We're both still young and we like to go out with friends and spend money on the weekends. Those expenses are out of our budget now. Whenever our friends call us to go out, we can't. So we invite them over and play Pictionary or something. When I go to the store, I look for the cheaper dog and cat food."
Next: "I'm waiting for word from some real estate agencies, an attorney's office and a bookkeeping job at a church . . . . Our parents may possibly help out, but we don't like to depend on anyone to help us."
PATRICIA MORAN, 58
Job: Receptionist, with county five years.
Personal: Salary, $20,000. Husband is retired county worker; seven grown children.
Impact: "I came close to buying a new car and have it all paid for when I retired. But I held off on it, and I guess that's good. We were also going to move to Ventura because we like it there. But now we don't know what's in the future.
"We live in a senior trailer home, so we pay a discounted rate on our electrical and gas bills. But if we were renting an apartment, we definitely wouldn't be able to afford anything. Thank goodness I've already raised my seven kids."
Next: "I'm doing the things now that I planned to do after my retirement. I'm writing a book and pursuing a part-time job at a flower shop. As long as I have my husband, that's all I need in my life."
CANDIA COLANGELO, 40
Job: Part-time staff analyst in CAO, with county 13 years.
Personal: Salary, $28,000. Married. Three children.
Impact: "My husband is employed (by Los Angeles County), so we can pay the mortgage. I was not working just because I liked it--the paycheck was necessary for some things. A good part of the reason I was working was to pay the kids' tuition; my two youngest are in a Montessori school, and now we'll evaluate the future of that. Obviously we don't need day care now. There have been some other more superficial changes. We gave up the health club membership, for example.
"They gutted the whole division I was in without any real flow or transfer of any of our responsibilities. Almost like they're saying to us that in the broad scheme of things we're not that important."
Next: "I've been working part time at the kids' school, but it's not something I want to do long term."
RAY HANSINK, 48
Job: Part-time clinical psychologist with Health Care Agency, with county 10 months.
Personal: Salary, $20,280. Separated. Four children.
Impact: "I feel bad for the (the clients) I worked with. The people who need the most often get hurt the most, and I think that's the case here.
"It was the perfect job for me. I'm studying for my licensing as a psychologist, and the position the county offered was perfectly suited for people like me. I have another avenue to get the postdoctoral supervision I need--I have a private practice under the supervision of a licensed psychiatrist in Laguna Niguel--but this throws a wrinkle into everything.
"I've had to cash in my all of my retirement investments just to survive. I'm having to rely to some extent on contributions from my family members. I haven't had any money for anything recreational. My financial survival has left me anxious all the time."
Next: "There's always some good in everything, the silver lining, and I guess for me, it's that this has pushed me into some critical thinking about where I'm headed. It's making me think about things concerning building my private practice sooner than I might have."
JEFF YAUGHER, 31
Job: Warehouse worker for GSA, with county 10 years.
Personal: Salary, $26,000. Married; 3-year-old daughter.
Impact: "We're watching every penny and I'm looking for work. We cut down on everything. We don't go out anymore. We were a paycheck-to-paycheck family anyway. We live in an apartment; we're not homeowners. We don't have day care for our daughter anymore. It was $320 a month, so we couldn't afford that. Now I'm playing Mr. Mom. The only positive thing is that my daughter and I are building a stronger relationship.
"We're sitting here high and dry. We're not giving up, but it's driving me crazy just sitting here. It's tough."
Next: "I sent out about 30 resumes to electronics firms and communication places, warehouses, looking for anything, really, and I haven't got any response. I have a lot of experience, but I haven't got an acknowledgment of any kind. It's like, what am I doing wrong? We'll probably leave the area. Maybe I'll head back up north, where I lived for three years. Maybe we'll go out of state. Frankly, Orange and L.A. counties don't have a lot to offer as far as family environment."
HAO VU, 60
Job: Custodian, with county five years.
Personal: Salary, $23,316. Married. Six children.
Impact: "Most of my kids are in community colleges now. They are forced to look for work, too, to help out. I've had to rebudget our lifestyle. Anything that's not necessary, we eliminate from our expenses. Like the nice things, new clothes, extras here and there. I'm hopeful that I will get another job by next month.
"I've lost all my insurance. I'm in the process of applying for Medi-Cal. I may be in good health now, but I'm already 60. I worry about what will happen to me if I get ill. Most of all, what will happen to my kids' well-being?"
Next: "I'm looking for any job I can I find. I'm applying for laundry work and being a cook. In Vietnam, I was an army officer for 20 years. When I came (to the United States), I realized I have very few skills and needed to do anything to make money and support my family."
GAIL STRACHAN, 49
Job: Accounting assistant, with county 17 years.
Personal: Salary, $23,000. Single.
Impact: "I'll be OK. A relative owns the mortgage to my house. I pay the mortgage payments but they said, 'If you can't afford it, just pay the interest.' So far, (being laid off is) not making that much of a difference.
"I don't have time to go shopping anyway, so I'm not buying anything. I've got some savings that I was living on when I was in school, and I'm doing that again now. Right now, I'm fine. My main concern was medical (insurance) but I can get that through COBRA (payments) through July of 1996. And I'll graduate (with an accounting degree) in June."
Next: "I'm hoping I can get a job right after I graduate."
ANNE HALFORD, 65
Job: Office assistant at registrar of voters, with county 15 years.
Personal: Salary, $25,500. Married. Two children.
Impact: "The term that was used was 'phased out.' They told me I would have to move, that I could go somewhere else but they didn't know when, they didn't know where. They don't call it Tlaid off,' but the effects are the same. That means I don't have work. I'm looking for work. I'm working to get my retirement. Nobody down there knows when I'm going to get it. People like me are bearing the brunt of somebody else's error.
"Now when I go to buy something, I think, 'Well, do I really need it?' I'm not buying anything new. We just get the bare necessities. We were planning to go to a family reunion in southern Missouri. Now we can't go."
Next: "I'm getting unemployment while I'm looking for work. But now I'm offered $4.50 or $5 (per hour) for work as clerks, retail sales and things like that, if they have an opening. I was getting good pay, and I had a good job. That may never be the case again."
MAXINE (MAX) SCHMIDL, 42
Job: Management consultant and legislative analyst for CAO, 18 years with county.
Personal: Single. Has found work with Los Angeles County administrative office.
Impact: "I certainly felt a sense of personal loss and sadness. I made a lot of friends over the years. The one thing that I did was I had my resume polished and ready to go in advance. I did start making a list. It was pretty far reaching--from moving out of state to changing party affiliation in the hopes of getting a job with an Orange County legislator. I did that pretty much right away.
"I feel very fortunate in my friends. I had a lot of phone calls from people saying, 'If worse comes to worse, you can come move in with me.' I couldn't buy a meal for myself (because) people were asking me out for dinner every night.
"There were county offers of assistance to find a job. I remember just being kind of disgusted by it all and saying, 'I don't really think that I need your help. I think you've done plenty already.' I just wasn't sure that these were the most competent people to help me get a new job.
"There was almost an implication that the county was getting rid of dead wood. I was very angry about that implication. That just wasn't the case. An awful lot of people laid off by the county in my department are very bright people. I felt somewhat vindicated by getting a job."
Next: "I made a lateral move. Los Angeles is a lot of fun. It's not Kansas anymore. I feel like I'm in a different country. For me it's really exciting. If you can say that an organization has an organizational culture, it's very different in L.A. I think it's warmer."
GAYLE CLANTON, 48
Job: Data entry specialist for registrar of voters, with county 10 years.
Personal: Salary, $30,000. Married. Two grown children.
Impact: "My husband has been under a terrible amount of stress since I was laid off. He was working extra jobs. He's a handyman and has been working more than he should have been. On Wednesday the 8th (of March) he had a massive heart attack. He had five bypass surgeries that night. He died several times on the table, they told me. He's home now but we don't know what will happen.
"I had to have hand surgery, for carpal tunnel syndrome. I had one done, I'll have the other done soon. I'll stay on disability through the county . . . for another 3 1/2 months, about six to eight weeks per hand. Then I'll probably find a temporary job."
Next: "I'm no longer sure what we'll do; we no longer have a plan. I'm just going to hope some money comes in. It's a mess."
ANNETTE DIOGOSTINE, 31
Job: Research analyst for CAO, with county eight years.
Personal: Married. Two children.
Impact: "We moved from Garden Grove (to Fountain Valley) at the end of September. It's been 10 years and we finally got here. We have nice neighbors, good schools. We just hope we don't lose it. With two incomes it's pretty tight, with car payments, child-care payments, house payments. My husband and I have talked about maybe getting a roommate.
"We just don't eat out anymore. We're not buying anything, just the things that are necessary. Jenna (age 6) is going to a private school. I told her she might have to be changing. She cried, because she wants to stay with her friends. She told me, 'Why don't you get a job at Carl's Jr.?' "
Next: "I've sent out at least 50 letters. There are jobs out here, but a lot of them are really far away, out in the (San Fernando) Valley. I can't go that far."
BILL GAYK, 51
Job: Chief county demographer, with county 21 years.
Personal: Salary, $72,000. Married. Two children.
Impact: "My family and I were prepared. We had talked about it for a couple of months. I knew I was in a real vulnerable spot. With our children there was some disbelief. Nothing like this had ever happened before. But my son said, 'Well, now you can play catch with me every day,' and he insists I ride my bike with him to school.
"I knew my job was at risk because what we did, by and large, could really be pared down. What we were doing (on the job) was really important and valuable to the county and even opened up revenue streams. However, when I felt if it came down to public policy people and a deputy on the street, it'd be the deputy they would keep. I didn't take it personal. It's just business."
Next: "It's forced me to get on the phone and make a lot of calls I might not have made. For my longtime career outlook, I had hoped that once I was past 20 years with the county, I would (move on) if something interesting came along in academia or with some research institute. . . . I have my retirement (benefits), which will give us a cushion."
NANCY CONSTANTINO, 63
Job: Office assistant, register of voters, with county 18 years.
Personal: Salary, $26,695. Married, five grown children.
Impact: "When I retired, people said, 'You're going to be traveling?' I said no, because this was not a planned retirement. I would have gone to other states, to visit my children in Wisconsin and Washington state. We probably also would have gone to Italy. My husband's from Italy. He retired in the '70s. He is 85; was an AT&T; repairman.
"I will have to rely on Social Security, the little I accumulated and my retirement. We refinanced our house. We also cashed in some insurance policies in case things would get rough. We canceled some life insurance. If I died the beneficiaries wouldn't get what they would have gotten if I kept paying.
"I'm not doing things that cost much. I'm going to a free movie at the senior center. I'm not going to dinner that costs $35. I'm going to lunch that only costs $1.75. We joined a walking club that doesn't cost anything."
Next: "I'm just waiting to see how we get along."
LENA GNIADEK, 69
Job: Office specialist in the map unit of the registrar of voters Office, with county 13 years.
Personal: Salary, $25,000. Widow, two grown children.
Impact: "I won't be able to get by just on Social Security. I have a house and a mortgage I can't pay on Social Security, plus these medical bills (from her late husband's surgery two years ago.) I don't want to be a burden to my family. I'll survive. What else can you do? But I get sad.
"My job was kind of my therapy. I'd go to work, come home and be tired. It's very hard not having a purpose. I did everything right; there was not one thing I did wrong. There is no reason I shouldn't have been able to hang on to my job."
Next: "I'm definitely going to have to move. I'm trying to get my life in order first. . . . I have to have surgery but I haven't been able to get rid of a bronchial problem and the doctor won't do the surgery until I can shake that. My main thing right now is to get well.
"I don't know what I'm going to do, but I'll have to try to find a job (after surgery)."
BONNIE LARSEN, 53
Job: Public health nurse with the Health Care Agency, with county 11 months.
Personal: Single. One grown daughter; Adult son murdered in 1993.
Impact: "It was hard. There was Christmas. First of all, it was the anniversary of my son's death. Then we had just gotten the word of the layoff. At the same time I had to write an impact statement for the court to tell them how the murder had affected my life, and look for a new job.... More and more since my son died and being single and self-supporting, I've really come to trust in God to take care of myself. I used to think I needed a man. It's so nice to know that between God and me, I can take care of myself."
Next: "I got a job right away as a clinical supervisor for a home health care agency. This was really a godsend for me, because it's closer to home. I love the people. It's a raise in salary."
NORM HOWELL, 49
Job: Facilities project manager for GSA, mostly dealing with hazardous waste or diesel spills, with county seven years.
Personal: Salary, $50,000. Single, two children. One lives with him, one with his ex-wife. Girlfriend Sheryl Silver also laid off from county.
Impact: "We've just hit the brakes on all spending. I was looking at a house. I was looking at another car too. But both of those are out until we get some more stability. Those things now are so far down the pecking order."
"We went from a decent income--$50,000 for me and $30,000 for Sheryl--to nothing overnight. They let us both go. But she's already found a job."
Next: "I'm going to go into computers. There's nothing in construction now. I'm taking the courses now, already had most of the units. I'm studying networking of computer systems. I was an electrical contractor at one point so it's not all new.
"I'm taking unemployment until I can get through the courses. Once I'm certified and can pass all the tests, I can at least be a computer installer.
SHERYL SILVER, 37
Job: Information processing technician for GSA, with county nine years.
Personal: Salary, $30,000. Single, with two children. Boyfriend, Norm Howell, also laid off from county.
Impact: "It's been awful just trying to support little kids and pay your rent. My ex-husband . . . also has quit his job, so I'm not getting any child support right now. Of all of us laid off in our office, I was the only one with little children.
"They laid me off one week before Christmas. They are evil people there, to let somebody go right before Christmas. But I got a job within a month. It's less money and harder work, but I'm glad I got it."
Next: "Just to hang on to this job and keep going."
GLADYS TOBIN, 66
Job: Office assistant for registrar of voters, with county five years.
Personal: Salary, $25,000. Widow. One adult child.
Impact: "I won't lose my home yet. But it's been a big hardship. When you make what I made and then you don't have it, it's a very big hardship. My car insurance is due now and my income taxes I have to pay soon. I own my house and those taxes are coming due. Now I'm trying to find a job. It's scary. I'm looking for a clerical job, but I made almost $12 an hour. Most of these jobs, they don't even pay you $6. I'm collecting unemployment, but that only lasts for 26 weeks maximum and I only get $197 every two weeks. I'm living mostly on savings."
Next: "I'm looking for a job and collecting unemployment. I'm also going to try to go to school. I want to go through one of the job training programs, learn better typing and computer skills.
"I have never been on unemployment in my life. I've never had a handout from anybody. I'm a very proud individual. When you're young, you can roll with the punches. It's hard now."
MANUEL ERNESTO ALARCON, 38
Job: Custodian, with county six years.
Personal: Salary, About $19,000 a year. Married.
Impact: "Life has to keep going on, my daily routines, but I feel a depression. I'm afraid I might lose the house. I thank God my wife is working so she can help me with the rent. I'll eat two meals a day to save money for the rent, the bills, the car insurance. I feel like they just kicked me and that's it.
" I dropped out of high school. Today, I realize that I need a lot more education. I decided to learn more skills to get me a better job in the future. I'm not happy about being laid off, but I'm glad about retraining my mind."
Next: "I'm learning basic math, reading and writing, a little bit of construction and maintenance. It's a little bit of everything, which I think is important. The good thing about it is I'm not wasting my time. I'm doing something for myself. In the future, if something happens, I'll know that I'm going to have some good skills in life, so maybe they won't let me go right away, like they did in the county."
CHERYL BARBA, 44,
Job: Salary, $36,000. Staff analyst for CAO, worked for the county 15 months as a temporary employee, then was a permanent employee for only a month before being laid off.
Personal: Married. Two children
Impact: "It's been my experience that we learn to live with whatever we bring home. I'm not using the dry cleaners. I'm not going to the movies or other entertainments. It's not just my family that loses. It's the whole community that suffers. You can have a tremendous ripple-down effect.
"For me, it's not too bad. I just elected to work part time for a while. I registered with a temp agency for cash flow. . . . Your attitude toward work begins to change a great deal. You begin to change and become more introspective. You begin to ask yourself, TIs this what I want to do with my life?' A lot of changes would not occur if you didn't have a layoff."
Next: "I'm collecting unemployment when I'm not at work. I consider myself very fortunate. I have a strong background in computers, finance, banking, sales and marketing. I don't have any reservations about getting a job. It'll just be what I choose to work in."
AUDRE SOIFER, 51
Job: Program manager for the microcomputing training division, with county 21 years.
Personal: Salary, about $44,000. Single. One adult child.
Impact: "The whole section in our department was let go . . . . about a dozen people. It was really coldhearted. They walked some of us out the door like we couldn't be trusted after we had worked there loyally. I know it was because we had access to the computers, but it wasn't very nice. I was a good employee, I worked 125% for those people. I didn't deserve that kind of dismissal.
"My car was stolen last January, a car I owned, so now I have car payments I have to make. I've really scaled back on my spending. I'm watching what I spend."
Next: "I'm actively looking for a position, something in program management, or maybe as an administrative assistant.
RENEE SCHULTE, 44
Job: Research analyst for CAO, with county 13 years.
Personal: Salary, $50,000-plus. Single.
Impact: "I've always had a nervous stomach, but it's just been exacerbated. I had to deal with my car . . . and looking for a place to live. I make one list a week, and add to it, and prioritize as the need arises. Even my postman is praying for me. He was delivering certified pieces of mail to my door and he noticed they were from the county of Orange.
"There's a lot of self-doubt, self-esteem questioning. You go through bereavement. I've never been laid off before. I haven't been able to sleep. When you do sleep, you think all the time about your options, or your non-options. (But) I get a lot of support from friends and family. I belong to the Lions Club and they are very willing to network and help with contacts.
"I was within an eyelash of buying a house in late October, but it was a gut-level decision on my part not to countersign the owner's offer. I rent and I will have to move. Unemployment secures $920 maximum a month and my rent's $900. I've lived in this place since 1977.
Next: "Before I even got laid off, I applied for a document that lists public sector jobs. I'm using that and all the contacts I have."
DEE PAULE, 49
Job: Office assistant for registrar of voters, with county eight years.
Personal: Salary, $30,000. Married. Three children.
Impact: "I'm coping better than the rest. My husband supports me a lot. He is an accounting analyst for L.A. County. I leave for the 8 o'clock Mass every day. I couldn't do this when I was working. I think that's one reason I don't feel as bad as the others, because of the church.
"We had plans for my son's graduation. We were planning to go on vacation to Puerto Rico or the Philippines. But now we won't be able to because we only have one income."
Next: "Right now I'm still staying home. I'm being a housewife and a mother for my son. I'm planning to volunteer for my son's school. After he graduates, then I'll go back to work."
JIM COLON, 44
Job: Real property agent, with county five years.
Personal: Salary, $44,000. Married. Four children.
Impact: "It's added a lot of stress. The kids and my wife have been as understanding as possible, but it's been difficult for all of us. We've put everything off. The only things being paid are the most basic expenses--the rent, the food.
"(On a personal level), I've been OK. I always thought I put a lot of effort into my job, but I never was treated very well on the job, so I needed to have a lot of self-esteem to get through it. That self-esteem has held me over now that I'm out of work. I think it's terrible that the (county leaders) aren't the ones looking for jobs. They were sleeping on the job and they should resign. They said they were going to trim the fat from the county, but all the people who were laid off were the worker bees. The managerial ranks, which were bloated, are all still there. It's ridiculous."
Next: "I've sent out about 100 resumes. Now I'm looking outside the area or even outside the state at this point. I'm thinking I may have to look outside my field, with the real estate market in the shape it's in."
NANCY LIAO, 46
Job: Administrative manager in urban analysis department of CAO, with county 17 years.
Personal: Salary, mid-$70,000s. Married.
Impact: "There are moments where I wonder, 'What's the meaning of this?' I've worked all my life, and to get laid off like this so suddenly and working so long, it's difficult. The critical thing is coping with the identity crisis. You have to try to hold on to a high opinion of yourself. You just have to say OK, it's time to move onto something different. Things will get better.
"We're budgeting differently. We had two incomes and, with no kids, I could spend more. But now we're very aware and careful. We're not starving, but there's been an effect on our sense of security. We're re-evaluating things. We've postponed vacation plans."
Next: "I'm keeping my options open. I'd like to get something in the area, but that may be difficult. Not only is the county affected, but all the cities have been impacted and the ripple effect has affected the private sector, too."
ROBERT SPENCER, 47
Job: Senior systems analyst for GSA, with county 23 years.
Personal: Salary, $67,000. Married. Three children from previous marriage.
Impact: "On my child support payments (about $1,400 per month), I haven't paid anything since I've been laid off. I don't even have enough to get by on my own. My wife was laid off in October after she had an auto accident, so our savings were depleted. Now, there's no money for anything for either family. Clothing, we don't have money for. Field trips, we can't afford.
"My oldest son is 13. After the championship game of the hockey season, the team wanted to go out and have pizza with the coach and all the parents. He was the only one who couldn't go because his parents can't afford to buy him a pizza. That's kind of pathetic, but when you've got payments, you can't spend the money on a pizza or a salad."
Next: "I've got the want ads out. Friends are advising me of opportunities. It's a slow process. I just got my first unemployment check. I get about half the allowable rate because I work part time at the state university system, teaching public policy at Cal State Long Beach."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
VICTIMS OF CIRCUMSTANCE / A SPECIAL REPORT
Project Editor: Donna Wares
Design Editor: Chuck Nigash
Photo Editors: Veronika Andrasovsky, Colin Crawford, Jacke Crump, Gail Fisher, Don Tormey
Photographers: Don Bartletti, Mark Boster, Craig Wallace Chapman, Christine Cotter, David Fitzgerald, Alexander Gallardo, Sean Gallup, Alex Garcia, Bob Grieser, Chiaki Kawajiri, Glenn Koenig, Robert Lachman, Rick Loomis, Geraldine Wilkins
Research: Sheila Kern