The nation's financial crisis and rising unemployment haven't spared the Northwest, where a Marana couple recently found out how easily you can go from prospering to being in need of help.
Until a few months ago, Sarah and Vincent Robinson were living a normal life with their four children. Vincent had a job with Direct TV, and Sarah took care of their kids and volunteered with a community non-profit organization.
In hindsight, Vincent realizes how precarious their finances were.
"I was living check to check," Vincent said.
Then the bottom fell out. Vincent lost his job in a round of layoffs and the Robinsons suddenly found themselves struggling to make ends meet.
He quickly discovered that getting a new job wasn't going to be easy, especially in today's hobbled economy.
To help out, Sarah decided to go back to work while Vincent looked for something permanent.
With ample experience in sales, Sarah began her job search. With similarly disappointing results.
"All of the sudden I'm putting my resume online and no one is calling me," Sarah said.
As the national economy continues to fall — the U.S. Department of Commerce reported last week that the gross domestic product contracted 6.1 percent since January — more people find themselves slipping into financial straits.
Marana's 6.1-percent unemployment rate in 2009 marks a 23 percent increase over last year's average. Unemployment in Oro Valley also has grown since last year, standing today at 4.6 percent — a 22 percent jump over the average for last year.
Both towns, however, fare better than Pima County and the state as a whole, where unemployment rates stand at 6.6 and 7.3 percent, respectively, according to the Arizona Department of Commerce.
Statewide projections, however, look bleak with continued job losses expected throughout 2009 and 2010. The commerce department last week released a report with estimates of 146,000 jobs lost this year and an additional 21,600 in 2010. The two-year job-loss projection totals more than 167,000.
With the numbers of people losing jobs on the rise, aid agencies have seen an influx of people in need of financial assistance.
"The people who are living from one paycheck to the next are really vulnerable," said Terri Patt-Smith, who works for Interfaith Community Services.
The group works with Pima County to provide financial assistance, help with affordable housing, job placement and bill payment regardless of religious affiliation.
In some cases, the group provides basic assistance like gas vouchers or paying for identification cards to keep people from falling deeper into hard times while searching for work.
Patt-Smith said ICS once bought a bicycle for someone who found a job working nights at a place not served by public transportation.
Interfaith Community Services recently helped the Robinsons with their bills while Vincent and Sarah work to get back in their feet.
"I was making decent money, so my monthly bills were pretty high," Vincent said.
Even getting a tax return from Uncle Sam offered little comfort for the Robinsons. That money went to keep up with child-support payments from Vincent's previous marriage.
Then the couple started having car trouble as well, dampening their job prospects.
"I kept thinking it couldn't get worse," Sarah said.
Their story isn't uncommon these days, Patt-Smith said. Many times factors pile up on people, complicating their efforts to get back to work.
"We've found that a lot of little things can hang people up from finding employment," Patt-Smith said.
Despite the recent hardships, Sarah has tried to maintain a positive focus while job hunting. She also plans to keep volunteering with the community groups she supports.
"We have to stay involved even if we're struggling," she said. "It's about something bigger than ourselves."
Interfaith Community Services
The group provides help to people in need throughout Pima County. Many of the beneficiaries are elderly, but increasingly the group sees people who have suffered as result of the sour national economy.
Types of Service:
Financial assistance: Rent and shelter, utilities, emergency prescription medications, travel funds, food and gas vouchers, and back-to-work expenses such as permits, identifications and clothing.
In partnership with the Community Food Bank, the group distributes supplemental food and holiday boxes to families in need.
Care-giving services: Programs that help registered ICS recipients live independently in their own homes, without the need for institutional care.
How to help:
To donate to Interfaith Community Services, call 297-6049 to speak with a representative or send contributions to: Interfaith Community Services, 2820 W. Ina Road, Tucson, 85741-2502
Local unemployment rate climbs
Arizona Department of Commerce figures show Northwest jobless figures on the rise since 2008.
2009 4.6 percent
2008 3.6 percent
2009 6.1 percent
2008 4.7 percent
Source: Arizona Department of Commerce