John Makely / msnbc.com
Jon Reiner joins other "Occupy Wall Street" protesters Wednesday at Zucottii Park in New York City.
By Miranda Leitsinger, msnbc.com
Jon Reiner, a former marketing executive and father of two boys, figures he has sent out 2,000 resumes since he was laid off for the third time nearly five years ago. He has not gotten a single job offer.
An unassuming presence in the colorful crowd that marched in New York on Wednesday, the 49-year-old Reiner nevertheless is in many ways typical of the protesters who have established the “Occupy Wall Street” camp just blocks away from the New York Stock Exchange.
His despair and frustration are palpable as he speaks about how his wife has returned to work as a high school teacher to support their family. Even so, he says, they ran out of their savings last year and now are in debt.
The fall from what Reiner believed was a path that would lead to a comfortable retirement was both fast and “shattering.”
“You were a member of the middle class, you were at a point in your life where you thought you’d be at the zenith of your career or upward trajectory, and all of a sudden you find yourself marginalized,” he said. “… The term that I’ve begun to use is unemployable.”
Now a stay-at-home dad at the couple’s two-bedroom apartment in New York City’s Upper West Side, Reiner is one of the forgotten jobless – someone who has been without work for so long that he is no longer officially on the unemployment rolls. He is grateful that he has finally found a place where he can voice his worries and hopes for the future: at the “Occupy Wall Street” camp.
“What this rally – this organization you know -- represents is to try to give voice to the have nots, who are a huge part of this society, and who no longer have the means or the opportunity to contribute,” he said.
He rejected as “unfair” critics of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement who would “dismiss what is a very real issue and a very real need based on a perceived lack of organization.”
“I think that most grassroots movements that I am aware of start out messy and disorganized but they do come together because there is some galvanizing need or desire or sense of purpose,” he said.
The camp is filled with protesters – young and old with different professions and backgrounds – many toting signs decrying corporate greed or espousing other causes. People exchange ideas as they make food for demonstrators or, on this day, move the camp to accommodate new arrivals.
The cry of “mic check” is often heard, when an individual needs to make an announcement to the group. At daily general assemblies, anyone with an opinion – about anything – can take the microphone and express it.
Reiner, wearing a blue fleece jacket and khaki pants, is not one to make a speech. But he approaches a reporter interviewing the crowd and willingly tells his story.
He said his last layoff, in 2007, came after two others since 2001. In each case, he was dismissed because Wall Street analysts determined that his company’s stock was underperforming, not because the firm wasn’t profitable, he said.
“I assumed after the last layoff that, that was probably it for me, I was probably not going to find another job like I’ve had because they were being eliminated,” he said. “And, the last five years looking for work obviously confirmed (that).”
“My identity in terms of how I define myself for my profession has been destroyed. It’s a humiliating feeling and it’s also terribly worrisome because I’m only 49-years-old -- which doesn’t feel old to me -- and I had planned to work for another 20 years and I have a family to support,” he added. “(Now) I need to figure out how it is we are going to be able to survive.”
Reiner said he and his wife try to shield their sons -- eight and 12 -- from the economic strains. He said he hasn’t bought new clothes for himself in years, his wife wears old clothes to work and they don’t go out to dinner or to movies. They haven’t taken a vacation in years, either.
“There are a lot of things that we used to do to have fun, to enjoy ourselves, to stay sane, and the absence of that has placed enormous strain on our marriage,” he said. “We’re sticking through it together, but it’s a daily burden and … we make sacrifices so that our kids don’t have to make as many. But our kids have to make sacrifices, too.”
He said one of his son’s friends wanted him to join a weekly swim lesson, but Reiner said he had to tell him they couldn’t afford it. The other wanted to return to taekwondo, but they don’t have money for that either. Reiner said his son now puts on his uniform to do shadow kicks on his own.
Reiner believes his resume has often ended up in the trash, and when he gets an interview, he either learns that the job doesn’t yet exist or finds himself explaining “the elephant in the room” -- why he hasn’t had work for so long.
“The answer, you know, I was a victim of a corporate layoff and what I’ve been doing is this, I’ve been trying to get inside the door again,” he said, adding that the response seems either “suspect” to those interviewing him or has “some stigma or fear attached to it.”
Wednesday was Reiner’s fourth day at the camp. Usually he can only come during school hours since he has to get the boys off to school and pick them up afterward. He arranged a play date for his sons so he could join the afternoon march.
“I will continue to come regularly and see what I can contribute to the cause,” he said. “If it’s just my body … marching in a line, that’s one thing, but I’m going around to various tables and offering what I can do.”
While he is adding his voice to the growing protest, Reiner said he is trying to make hay from his experience by penning a book on his plunge from affluence to jobless. His memoir, on his having to live with almost no food or water for several months after a medical emergency and the ensuing impact on his family and his health, was published in September.
But he's also continuing to retain a shred of hope in the face of what at times seems like a hopeless exercise.
“I and my peers keep hoping that things will get better. I mean it’s insulting when we hear sometimes that the unemployment statistics don’t include the millions of people who have given up, and that identifies me because my unemployment benefits have run out a long time ago,” he said. “But I haven’t given up. I continue to look for work year after year, as do my friends.”
“… I can deal with the humiliation. What’s not negotiable is living in debt and not having the means to pay our bills.”