Hire me, anyone, please

Three jolts in unstable times send a job hunter to the streets to try to provide for her family. "The clock is running," she says.

By JOHN PENDYGRAFT, Times Staff Writer
Published February 7, 2008

A sweat stain has worked its way through a royal blue silk blouse and past the top polyester threads of 34-year-old Brandie McGowan-Fitzgerald's black business jacket. Fortunately, Wednesday morning's rush hour traffic buzzing past her left and right is moving too quickly to notice. When they line up for the light at Busch Boulevard and Interstate 275 she walks car to car, dressed in full business attire, and shows her sign:

"Single Mom Needs Work. Take a Resume."

She has three kids. Two boys, 13 and 16, and a 10-year-old girl. Last year, bad luck came in threes. She was laid off, had an adjustable rate mortgage push her monthly budget past her means and is separating from her husband.

She feels like time is against her.

"Financially, right now the clock is running. I'm almost out of money. It takes a toll on you mentally. Especially as I watch my bank account slowly decrease. I have $1,000 in the bank right now until I get a job," she says. "What am I going to do?"

Before October, she was working as a project manager for cell phone tower company Crown Castle U.S.A. Inc. in Sarasota, and living with her husband, a firefighter. Her base pay was $45,000, plus commissions. In a good year, she could break into six figures.

Her frustration level has peaked. "I've applied on every job site there is. I've looked through the paper every day. Nothing. Not even a call back. I feel like the resumes are going nowhere. So I had to take it a step further and get out here," she says.

It's worked before. Pushing her resume on the street helped get her a job in 2003 with CP Ships in Tampa.

For McGowan-Fitzgerald, the urgency outweighs the stigma. Her kids tease her.

"They razz me. My son asked me the other day 'what street were you walking today,' but God forbid this ever happens to them. They need to know they have to get out there and work for what they want. Right now I can provide for their needs, but not their wants, and that's hard."

She accepts that it is difficult for them to understand.

"I really hope they see I have done everything in my power to provide for them. I hope one day, not today, but one day they will look back at me as a role model. That they'll appreciate that you have to go out and do whatever you have to do to earn the things you enjoy."

As bad economic news fills the airwaves and headlines, she feels like a statistic.

"It's heartbreaking to me. This is supposed to be the land of opportunity and I don't see any. Kids are being affected by this economy. They're being uprooted," she says.

"It's just unstable. I feel unstable."

About this feature
Two out of three families in the United States say they live paycheck to paycheck. American savings are in the negative, the lowest level since the Great Depression. In the Tampa Bay area, the financial pressure for many is acute: Average wages are lower than comparable Sun Belt cities, and median home prices have doubled in a decade. Add a related surge in property taxes and insurance bills (not to mention higher gas prices) and the challenge to make ends meet is quickly becoming pervasive. It's not a fringe problem. It's your neighbor; it's us. Times photographer John Pendygraft is seeking stories that put a face behind the phenomenon.

Tell us what you think
Are you living paycheck to paycheck? Or have you? Share your story and read past stories at money.tampabay.com.

John Pendygraft can be reached at jpendygraft@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8050.