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Unemployment Causes Variety of Problems With AM-Iron Range

May 17, 1985

HIBBING, Minn. (AP) _ When layoffs swept the taconite mining industry three years ago, most of the workers were reluctant to pull up stakes. Someday, they hoped, they’d be called back.

For many, that optimism has vanished.

″People are losing hope and faith, mainly because they see their friends move away,″ said Capt. Michael Tompkins of the Salvation Army in Virginia, Minn., which provided free meals, clothing and lodging to 2,300 people last year.

″I’ve got people in my office who’ve been out of work four, five years, and they’ve been saying, ‘I believe it’s going to turn around.’ Now, they’re saying, ’I don’t think it’s going to turn around.‴

Some are moving out, selling their homes at a loss and seeking work in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

″We’re doing something we don’t want to do: We’re moving them out,″ said Vincent Gentilini, executive director of the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency in Virginia.″It’s not getting better. There’s no future.″

Using state and federal funds, Gentilini’s agency last year began a Jobs for Families program. It pays for job training, moving and finding work and a place to live in the Twin Cities, where the unemployment rate in March was 4.6 percent. The average move costs about $1,200.

The exodus has been substantial.

Silver Bay, incorporated in 1956 after Reserve Mining Co. started a processing plant and built homes for its employees, had 2,917 residents in the 1980 census. A fourth of them have already left, taking as little as $10,000 for houses that had cost them $30,000.

Lynn Sislo, a sales associate for Century 21 Accent Realty in Virginia, estimated that 1,500 houses were for sale in Virginia and Hibbing, with an average list price of $42,000 and an average sale price of $32,000.

At the Eveleth Area Vocational Technical Institute, about two-thirds of the 350 students are out-of-work steelworkers or former homemakers looking for a job, according to financial aid director George N. Walters.

″Mostly they’re telling us you’d have to leave the Range to get work,″ said Julie Beloy, 25, of Virginia, who is learning how to make eyeglasses at the Eveleth school.

Thousands of those who are hanging on in the Iron Range depend on charity.

At a ″food shelf,″ families can obtain three days worth of canned goods, flour, potatoes, peanut butter and other staples at no charge.

Last year, 19 food shelves in the Iron Range distributed 1.8 million pounds of food to 20,978 households, said Karen Skorich, program director for the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency in Virginia. Two years earlier, just 4,760 asked for help.

Now, Ms. Skorich said, 31 food shelves in northeastern Minnesota use Arrowhead Food Bank.

Hard times also appear to be taking their toll on mental health, but jobless people often postpone facing their problems, according to Pat Rookey of the Range Mental Health Center in Virginia.

″It seems what we’re seeing is a sicker population with people generally waiting longer to come in for help,″ Rookey said.

Robert Whalen, a psychiatric social worker at the Range center, said prolonged unemployment can provoke feelings of guilt, anger, powerlessness, depression. Those emotions can manifest themselves in suicide, troubled marriages, children fighting with parents, and alcohol and drug abuse.

″People say, ’What’s wrong with me? I can’t provide,‴ Whalen said.

Bob Umhauer, 29, who lost his $10.50-an-hour job when U.S. Steel shut its Minntac taconite plant in 1981, now sweeps a bowling alley for $3.75 an hour.

By clipping coupons and buying clothes at rummage sales, he and his wife Carol, a librarian, have stayed out of debt and even saved enough money to buy a modest house.

He plans to stay. There’s ″too much rush, rush″ in the city, said Umhauer, who said hard times have made his family stronger.

″I tell everybody there’s life after U.S. Steel,″ Umhauer said.

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