SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The number of people applying for unemployment benefits has been dropping around the country as the new year begins. Companies are laying off fewer workers, and hiring may be picking up. The U.S. Labor Department reported yesterday that the unemployment rate is now 8.5 percent, the lowest level in almost three years.
But 8.5 is just an average. Prospects for losing or finding a job depend on where you live.The unemployment rate in Stockton, California, is about 15.5 percent; in Lincoln, Nebraska, it's 3.2; and Jacksonville, Florida, about 9.5. Around the country, people without jobs struggle to get by and look for a future, sharing their frustrations with candor, poignance and even a little humor.
MILES HOFFMAN: My name is Miles Hoffman, and I'm a designer-drafter. I've been looking for work for almost two years now. I was laid off from ENVY Energy. I went from a house to an apartment, to now I live in a weekly hotel. The next level is the street.
DAVE BRINKERHOFF: My name is Dave Brinkerhoff(ph). I'm in landscaping. Lost my job on Monday, and it's the first time in my life that I've been laid off - in 25 years - and I'm scared to death.
MOLLY JOHNSON: My name is Molly Johnson. I have been looking for work since March of 2010. We read headlines about, Massachusetts has added so many thousand jobs. That doesn't really help if I don't know where those jobs are. What do I need to do to get a job? I'm young; I'm healthy; I'm creative; I'm smart. I'm willing to learn, so help me out here.
JILL R. GONZALEZ: My name is Jill R. Gonzalez. I've been working for Wal-Mart for 15 years. I got laid off December 2nd, so we didn't have Christmas.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We've taken on a housemate for the first time - my wife and I - in our tiny apartment; cutting down on everything - food, after-work beer. I don't have a job, so there's no after-work anymore.
CHRISTINE MORGAN: My name is Christine Morgan. There's no movies, there's no going out to dinner or anything like this. I mean, it's really penny pinching.
STEVEN A. GIFFIN: Steven A. Giffin. Most of my life has been logging and construction. Construction in the summertime, logging in the wintertime. I live with my sister at this point - well, between brother and sister. Other than that, I have absolutely nothing. If not for the grace of my family, I wouldn't have anything at all.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I'm going to use my whole 401(k) retirement check to pay all my bills for a year.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I've had to give up my car, give up how I live.
LEONARD FRANCES: My name is Leonard Frances. I've been employed in the human-service sector and mental-health field for 20 years, and I've been unemployed for about a year. I don't know if I'm optimistic but I'm hopeful, yeah. I'm not even sure what the difference is; I'll have to check Websters.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.