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A Bitter Christmas for Unemployed Immigrants

El Diario La Prensa, News Report, Jose Acosta, Translated by Suzanne Manneh Posted: Dec 25, 2008

NEW YORK - After working at Manhattan's Sacks department store for seven years, Juan Lebron, 42, who had earned the position of supervisor, was fired last week due to low sales.

"I was very depressed by my dismissal. I was affected emotionally and financially. I can't sleep at night thinking of where I'm going to get money to support my family, especially this Christmas. My wife has encouraged me to have faith. She told me that I am not alone in this job loss crisis, and that I should thank God that she hasn't lost her job," said Lebrn.

Latinos earned an average of $27,000 this year, but Lebrn and his wife, who is a teacher's assistant at a public school, were able to support their three children, ages 19, 15 and 11, and cover their household expenses.

"My dismissal leaves me in a position of almost being on the verge of asking for public assistance, because now the economic situation is harder. I thought about collecting (unemployment benefits), but I want to try to find another job first," he admitted.

Lebrn said he has spoken with friends and colleagues in his field to try to find a job, and that since his dismissal he has filled out about eight applications for several shops in the city.

"In one of the shops in lower Manhattan, I filled out the application but they aren't taking anyone now. They're just taking down your name and a description of what you can do," said Lebrn.

Latina mother Nancy Mann, 48, is in an even more distressing situation than the Lebrns. Mann's husband died six years ago, but she kept his last name and lives off of social security checks she inherited from him and the $260 she earned weekly when she worked at the H&M factory in New Jersey. The total amount barely covers the cost of her apartment and supporting her 16 year-old-son.

"When they told me a year ago that I was being laid off because they had to cut staff, I felt like dying because I didn't know how I was going to survive in this country that's so hard," she said.

"After trying unsuccessfully to find work, I had to seek public assistance. I've been looking for work and I've given my resume (CV) to supermarkets, stores, but they all tell me there's no work, that instead of hiring, they are firing," said Mann.

"Babysitting a little has helped me, but it doesn't make much money. It's just enough for me to get the $900 to pay rent and buy food," she added.

"I'm always short of cash. Now I'm sad because I have a teenage son and I don't know how I'm going to get money to buy him a Christmas present. He didn't ask for electronics like young people his age do because he understands my situation, but he did ask me for shoes and clothes," Mann said.

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