Defining the American Dream

Stack of Bills, and No Paycheck or Savings

Posted on Wednesday, December 1, 2010

For Carol Ann Fuoco, 58, things are not the way they used to be.
Ms. Fuoco has lived in the same apartment in Maspeth, Queens, since she was 10. Once, the kitchen in her co-op apartment had brick-patterned wallpaper with ivy poking through the cracks. That was followed by wallpaper with a pattern of strawberries. Now, the walls are apple green.
Her sister married and moved out in the 1970s, but Ms. Fuoco stayed on. She cared for and nursed her parents in the apartment and witnessed their passing: her father died in 1997 of prostate cancer, her mother in 2001, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. “I made a promise I would never put my parents in a home,” she said.
But the décor has not been the only thing to change over the years. In March, Ms. Fuoco was one of 1,000 people to be laid off from the computer software company where she had been working as an administrative assistant for almost five years. She went from making $59,000 a year to receiving unemployment checks for $405 a week.
A diligent worker, she never had trouble earning money, but she acknowledged she had not been so good about saving it. “I would always try to start and then it never materialized,” she said. “If I had a tax return I would try to start and make an attempt to put it away, but it was hard and wound up not being able to.”
Was she worried about her retirement? “I didn’t plan on retiring any time soon,” she said.
A new job has proved elusive. Ms. Fuoco does not have a bachelor’s degree and so is not able to apply to many jobs for which she feels she is otherwise eligible. Her work experience is strong. She has done administrative work in the corporate sector since her first secretarial job at Pfizer after she graduated from high school.
In those days, reminisced Ms. Fuoco, “you would get dressed up. A suit. Well-groomed. You would go to the human resources department of any company and ask if they had any positions available.”
Today, it’s different. “Everything is done by e-mail,” she said. “You can’t just walk into companies like years ago.”
Eight months and three interviews after she was laid off, Ms. Fuoco has collected a stack of bills and has become delinquent on her credit card payments. She is struggling with a long list of expenses, including more than $1,000 in monthly co-op maintenance and mortgage fees. To stay afloat, Ms. Fuoco went to her local parish food pantry, which directed her to Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, one of the seven agencies supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. She received $400 for her September co-op maintenance fee and $159.44 to cover an outstanding phone bill. Unless she is granted an extension, her unemployment benefits will end in February.
Ms. Fuoco, who is registered with several temp agencies and has sent out more than two hundred résumés since March, is fearful of what the future will bring.
“It’s definitely taking a toll on her nerves,” said her nephew, Joseph Macchia, 37. Mr. Macchia has been living with Ms. Fuoco since 1996 and has been able to help with food, MetroCards and cable and Internet expenses.
Ms. Fuoco still wakes up early and immediately goes onto the Internet to search for jobs. She is also on the board of directors of her nephew’s not-for-profit organization, Help is on the Way Today, which raises money for children living with H.I.V. and AIDS.
Right now they are organizing a toy drive. “It gives me self-satisfaction, like I made a difference,” Ms. Fuoco said. “Putting a smile on the kids’ faces. I love kids.”
A
By REBECCA WHITE New York Times


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