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Mon, Oct 27, 2003

Laid Off Aerospace Workers Scraping Bottom

Life In The Wichita Trenches

Kris Ta is a laid-off aviation worker at the end of her benefits. She says her oldest boys wonder when they'll return to the big house where they used to live. "You have to make them understand they can't go back," she said.

The Wichita Eagle reports Kris is just one of almost 13,000 workers, mostly from the aerospace industry, have reached the end of their unemployment benefits over the past fiscal year, as the aviation industry's post-9/11 slump continues. New figures by GAMA indicate, for the year to date, worldwide deliveries are down almost 22 percent for the first three quarters of this year (ANN: "GAMA Reports Third Quarter Deliveries" -- 25 October 2003). It's a sad story for the industry and a tragic story for the people involved.

The problem is made worse by the fact that the manufacturing slump has lasted so long. Instead of looking like it's 9/11 related, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) says it seems like a market phenomenon -- something lawmakers probably won't be very keen to address. "It would be more difficult to get them as we get further away from 9/11."

"Other members are telling me the economy's better," said Kansas Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard. "I tell them that aerospace is the last sector to respond."

Kris Ta was laid off from her job as an electrical assembler for Raytheon in December 2001. Her husband, Kent, was laid off from his job as a Boeing machinist in February 2002.

Two weeks ago, she received the last of her $114-a-week benefit checks. Their only income is the $333 that Boeing provides each week for Kent to attend classes at Wichita State University.

When they were both working, Kris earned $300 a week at Raytheon. Kent made $1,200 every two weeks at Boeing.

"Compared to what we're living off right now, it's different as night and day," Kris said. "When you have kids, they ask for things, and you can't provide it. Kids are too young to understand."

Their 401Ks are gone, used up. The Tas have declared bankruptcy. Their five-bedroom house is gone. They now live in a subsidized duplex.

"There's employers out there who don't really want to work with you," Ta said. "They don't understand that  I want to work, but I got four kids, and I got to work it out where I don't have to send my kids to day care because you're not paying me enough to send my kids to day care." It's a vicious circle. But for the Tas, its become a black hole, sucking them in deeper than they ever imagined they would sink.



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