Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Vanishing RV Workers

An Oregonian article about what happened to many of the 7,700 people who worked for Oregon RV manufacturers after the last recession caught my eye – and hit a nerve.

KVAL_Country_CoachThe story, by Molly Young, cited a study by a state labor economist indicating nearly 80 percent of the Oregon RV manufacturing workforce employed in 2005 vanished four years later.

I can account for one of the missing.

My son, Christopher, lived in Junction City and, after kicking around in various jobs, landed employment at one of the RV manufacturers in that part of the Willamette Valley. He loved the job, which he said gave him a wide range of experience and the building blocks for new skills.

Christopher could be pretty low-key about most subjects, but he was excited about his job and the opportunities it could afford him. Things, he thought, were looking up.

But the recession came and he and many others lost their jobs because people stopped buying RVs. Losing his job was another blow to a kid who suffered a lot of them, some because of his own poor decisions.

After that, Christopher never really had a regular, everyday job. He kicked around doing odd jobs and picked up money by flipping stuff he bought low and tried to sell for a small profit.

I suggested he move somewhere else where jobs were more plentiful, but Christopher said he had a network of friends and, moreover, he liked the lifestyle in the Eugene area that allowed him to fish, camp, boat and see Oregon Duck games.

His job horizon shrunk significantly when his chronic condition of blood clots, which bedeviled him since high school, flared up. Christopher took painful shots in the stomach to thin his blood and doctors told him he couldn’t afford to work on any job that required him to stand for long periods of time. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the skills or knowledge to do much else.

Christopher’s grandmother suggested he revive his zeal for drawing that he displayed in middle and high school. He wasn’t destined to challenge Picasso, but drawing was one of the few things that captured and held his interest.

Following her suggestion, Christopher enrolled in Lane Community College. His grandmother and I pitched in to buy him an HP laptop for use in college. He took art classes, but he also took general business courses. The message had sunk in that education is sometimes the only way to escape an economic pit.

After being down for a long time, Christopher seemed to be on the upswing. Then, early one Saturday morning, he died in a car crash near Eugene.

Brian Rooney, a state labor economist, said nearly a third of former Oregon RV manufacturer employees have disappeared from Oregon’s unemployment records. He speculated the disappearances could mean former workers moved out of state, became self-employed or found jobs on farms. Many, he thought, disappeared simply because they ran out of jobless benefits.

At least one worker disappeared because he ran out of time.

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