GROTON, CONN. — PAUL HELLER, a former Electric Boat employee, has been out of work for five months. As an electronics mechanic, Mr. Heller helped install electrical systems on submarines built here. But last June, he was laid off along with 400 others at this General Dynamics division shipyard.
Now, he spends his days at the company's Career Transition Center, where he makes telephone calls, reviews job openings, and updates his resume. Finding a job isn't easy.
"Even at entry levels, companies want people with experience - one to two years," he says.
With bachelor's degrees in business administration and computer science, Heller previously held a computer-related job at Electric Boat. But he was laid off, so he took the mechanics job.
Besides spending time at the center, Heller works for a national program called SHARE (Self-help and Resource Exchange) that gives participants up to $35 worth of food for two hours of volunteer work plus $13 of their own money. Heller works at the pharmacy at the United States Navy submarine base in Groton. He picks up a weekly food package at the United Congregational Church in his hometown of Norwich. The food helps feed himself, his wife, and two teenage daughters.
"It's pretty nutritious. A few heads of broccoli, potatoes, onions, carrots.... This last time, they had frozen fish sticks, which were pretty good, pretty tasty," he says.
Janet Pearce, executive director of the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut, says more people than ever are struggling with unemployment from defense cutbacks. "There is a growth in the number of people who look like they are middle-class people and live like they are middle-class people, but have no cash."
Meanwhile, Heller has tried to save as much money as possible. A family outing, for example, is limited to getting an occasional ice cream at McDonald's, he says. "I think it's been stressful for everybody concerned. Unfortunately, right now, we are living from unemployment check to unemployment check."