Hardship hasn't dimmed hopes of Michigan couple

Laid-off steelworker George John Olshavsky has not been idle during his three years without a job. First he took a 1 1/2-year-course in machine tool technology at his own expense. But when he graduated he found no job.

So he enrolled in a community college course that squeezed two years of study on robotics, hydraulics, and electronics into a 10-month period.

Since his graduation last summer, young Olshavsky has sent out 198 resumes to prospective employers across the country, with assistance from the staff of the Downriver Community Conference (DCC), a retraining program where he learned of the robotics course. The DCC staff has been ''fantastic,'' he says.

''I feel I'll have a job by Christmas,'' he said recently, as he sat on the sofa with his wife in the living room of their comfortable, three-bedroom, brick ranch home on a narrow street in a blue-collar subdivision here.

His unemployment checks ran out long ago. But his wife, Debra, drives a school bus and does other part-time work, earning about $10,000 a year. So they have kept up their $323 monthly mortgage payments. And they've already paid for their '75 car and '77 truck. They have not run short on food.

''We can count our blessings,'' says Debra, who is expecting their first child in early January. ''We do realize there are people who are worse off than we are.''

By the end of his 2 1/2 years at the steel plant, he was earning $25,000 to $ 30,000 a year, varying with the amount of overtime. Since then, they have had to dip heavily into savings. They skip concerts, fancy restaurants, and vacations. He does all his own car repairs.

''The only pair of jeans I have is the pair I have on, and they're a year and a half old,'' he says, with a laugh.

But the long period of his unemployment has brought the couple closer together, they both say.

Later, sitting in the kitchen with her husband, Debra says, very quietly: ''It makes you realize what's important in life. Materialistic things aren't necessarily the most important. And when you have problems, I think you tend to grow spiritually - to strengthen yourself emotionally.''

''She's been my main drive to go to school and excel as well as I did - to give me the confidence to keep going and not quit,'' he says.

''I just try to do my best and keep a positive attitude,'' his wife responds.

One evening he mentioned to a neighbor that he was discouraged over the long period of unemployment and the difficult retraining course. The next morning when he walked out the front door he saw a sign the neighbor had stuck in the lawn. It read: ''Go for it. Good luck John.''

''I still have it in the garage,'' he says, smiling. ''Little things like that help you a lot.''

He advises other laid-off workers to be optimistic; make looking for work a full-time job; be sure to retrain for an occupation for which there is a demand; and send out many, many resumes.

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