WASHINGTON -- Wayne Ryan is sleeping on a futon on the floor of his empty mobile home. He hocked his DVDs and CDs for food money. The unemployed carpenter from Bonney Lake hasn't had a job in 14 months. His unemployment ran out weeks ago. He says he's just about hit rock bottom
"I'm reading the Bible a lot more to keep from killing myself," said Ryan.
Two years ago, Benay Doolittle of Kennewick was making $100,000 as an information technology worker. Today she's on food stamps, living at a girlfriend's house. She's filed for bankruptcy. She says her unemployment benefits have ended and no one has shown interest in the hundreds of resumes she's sent out.
"It's like going into a black hole," said Doolittle, who has a college degree in management information systems. "I don't see an end in sight."
Ryan and Doolittle are among the nearly 331,000 unemployed in Washington state. A year ago there were fewer than 200,000.
Theirs are the faces behind the numbers. They shared their stories of being down and out through no fault of their own as Congress considers whether to extend unemployment benefits for a third time since the recession began.
The Senate is expected to act this week on extending the benefits for 14 weeks, with an additional six weeks for states whose unemployment rate is above 8.5 percent. With an unemployment rate of 9.3 percent, Washington state would qualify. The House earlier passed a less generous version; the two bills will have to be reconciled.
Unemployed in Washington now received up to 79 weeks of benefits.
Unless Congress acts, 1.4 million people could lose their benefits by the end of the year, including 18,000 in Washington state. Meanwhile, there are no signs of a recovery in the job market.
Since late 2007, 145,000 jobs in Washington state have disappeared -- roughly one in 20. The average search for a new job in the state lasts more than six months.
"It's been pretty much across the board," Sheryl Hutchison of the Washington state Employment Security Department said when asked which sectors have been hit hardest. The state has lost a quarter of its manufacturing jobs and 18 percent of its construction jobs.
One of the encouraging signs in an overall bleak economy, Hutchison said, was that the unemployment rate in Washington state was not been growing as rapidly as the national rate. The national unemployment rate was 9.8 percent in September.
Even so, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said during Senate debate Tuesday that it was critical for Congress to act quickly.
"These workers are not asking for a handout, they are just asking for a small measure of support as they try to get back on their feet," Murray said. "We cannot sit by as working families are pushed to the brink by a financial crisis they didn't create, but are still paying for."
Ryan was among those mentioned by Murray in earlier comments on the floor. He and hundreds of other people have written Murray, urging her to push for an extension of unemployment benefits.
Ryan has been working since he was 18 years old, first at a furniture factory in Auburn and later framing houses in Tacoma.
"I've always worked," he said. But he was laid off 14 months ago, and despite sending out 200 resumes and making 600 phone contacts, he has yet to find a job.
In part, Ryan blames low-wage Mexican and Russian carpenters who he says are taking all the jobs in the Tacoma area. But he also said he sensed years ago that the housing market was becoming a bubble that was going to burst.
Ryan has been a non-union carpenter, but he said when he recently sought to join a union, they wouldn't even accept his application fee because there weren't enough jobs for its current members.
Since losing his job, Ryan, 46, said he has sold all his furniture, except for the futon and an electric piano. While he owns his mobile home, he's behind on the rent for the land it sits on. When he doesn't have money to eat, he seeks assistance at a food bank.
"I am at the end of my rope, I don't know what I am going to do," Ryan said.
In Kennewick, Doolittle, 48, said she is finding she is overqualified for many of the jobs she is applying for. She quit a job at the Hanford nuclear reservation, sold her house and moved to Olympia for what she thought at the time was a better job. She was laid off in 2007. After returning to Kennewick, Doolittle said she had a job offer in Maui. She sold many of her possessions and shipped the rest, but by the time she arrived in Hawaii the funding for her job had been eliminated.
"I was making $100,000 a year," she said. "I am now on food stamps. I never dreamed I would be without a job. This is devastating."
Doolittle said she tries to remain optimistic. Some have suggested she might want to strip information about her college degree off her resume so she might be considered for lower-wage jobs. She's reluctant to do that.
"I've always had a job," she said. "We want to work. There are just no jobs."
Gaye Hoese, a 59-year-old single mom in Tacoma, had worked for the same company in IT system support for 16 years before being laid off more than a year ago. She survived four rounds of layoffs at the company, but got caught in the fifth. She is overqualified for some jobs, under-qualified for others. She's been able to pay her house mortgage, car payments and medical bills by raiding her savings. But that's about to end, as he savings are nearly exhausted.
"You get behind a rock and a hard place," she said.
Hoese said her house is now worth less than her mortgage, but she can't refinance because she doesn't have a job. She's been thinking of going back to school, but she probably wouldn't qualify for the loans she would need to finance further education.
"Over the last six months I've been getting scared," said Hoese, who has worked since she was 15. "I'm too old for this. I'm an intelligent woman, I have experience, I have an education. There must be something out there."
Ryan, Doolittle and Hoese say additional unemployment benefits would help tide them over, hopefully, until they find jobs. None of them are ready to give up.
"What are the chances of winning the Lotto?" Hoese said.