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Scared still

"Scared still" Continued...

Issue: "Homegrown terror," Dec. 5, 2009

Desmond Lachman, an economist and fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, called the administration's job creation claims "a joke." "They say the stimulus has created 650,000 jobs, but we've seen 3.5 million jobs lost in the past eight to nine months," said Lachman. "There seems to be a disconnect."

That disconnect extends to how the administration is addressing the problem, according to Tad DeHaven of the Cato Institute. DeHaven says that evolving government policy is creating "regime uncertainty" among employers trying to decide whether to expand or hire: "Businesses right now don't know what Washington is going to do next."

Employers watching Washington see several possibilities: healthcare reform that could raise their costs, climate change legislation that could raise energy costs, regulatory changes that could bring drastic revisions to hiring practices, and excessive spending that could bring tax increases and drain available capital. "All of this contributes to the unwillingness of those who would otherwise be hiring people or keeping people," said DeHaven. "It undermines their willingness to take risk."

Small business owners may be willing to take some risk, but the willingness remains small: The National Federation of Independent Business reported last month that 9 percent of small business owners planned to add workers over the next three months, but that 16 percent planned to cut positions. The Business Roundtable reported that in a survey of executives at large firms, just 13 percent planned to increase employment over the next six months. Some 40 percent planned to cut payrolls.

That's what Scharf is finding. With a background in management, strategic planning, and running small businesses, Scharf estimates that since last year, he's sent nearly 6,000 resumés to employers, including many cold calls to companies in the area. Since January, he estimates around 20 employers have called him. The number of face-to-face interviews: two.

One of those interviews looked promising. The manager of a drug testing company asked Scharf to complete a consulting project and was happy with the results. Scharf thought he had the job. But two weeks later, he says the employer told him he wasn't ready to hire anyone in the current economic climate: "He just got cold feet."

While Scharf waits for employers to warm up, he isn't sitting still: Six days a week he sells cars at a local Ford dealership, hoping to bring in extra cash from commissions. He's thankful for the position, but a pile of debt from his collapsed company and two kids in college mean that Scharf needs a job that pays more.

For now, he's downsizing again: On a recent Saturday morning, Scharf and his wife unloaded a moving van at their new rental home, a smaller house that will cost $200 less a month. It's also closer to Mrs. Scharf's job: After nearly 20 years as a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom, she went back to work in June as an administrative assistant at a local Christian helps ministry. "I was scared to death," she says of going back to work after two decades. But she loves her new job and is grateful for the modest salary and benefits.

Gratitude is something that comes up often when the Scharfs talk about the last year. "We've all lost a lot of stuff, but Pam and I are so grateful for what we have," says Scharf. "Our emphasis isn't on things anymore, it's on relationships."

But Scharf is also honest about the difficulties of losing his business, his home, and the family's church and friends in Florida: "I've seen the worst of myself in these times, but I think that's growth." The couple says losing financial security has driven them to trust God more deeply and enjoy His blessing more fully. "Just like the Israelites, God has sustained us," says Scharf. "Our sandals aren't wearing out."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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