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If you go
What: Voices of Unemployed and Anxiously Employed Workers 2013
Who: Sponsored by the Unemployed and Anxiously Employed Workers’ Initiative of the Northeast Indiana Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and Workers’ Project Inc.
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Allen County Public Library downtown, auditorium
Admission: Free
For more information: Call 482-5588

Survey lets lost voices be heard

AFL-CIO to share concerns of people who are struggling


If you want to make Tom Lewandowski fighting mad, suggest the annual survey his organization conducts isn’t valid.

“I would put this up against the results of anybody else who’s surveyed the unemployed and anxiously employed,” he said. “Oh, wait! Nobody’s done it.”

Lewandowski, president of the Northeast Indiana Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, helped launch the Unemployed and Anxiously Employed Workers’ Initiative, which annually surveys people who are struggling.

This year, seven volunteers distributed surveys to people at local food banks, barber shops, churches, a township trustee’s office, WorkOne, the annual Labor Day Picnic and the Mexican Consulate’s mobile office, which visited Fort Wayne.

Results of the admittedly unscientific survey will be presented to the public at 7 p.m. today at the Allen County Public Library’s auditorium.

The seven-page survey included 28 economy-related questions, plus several demographics-related questions. Of the 558 responses collected, 346 were in English and 212 were in Spanish. A certified interpreter assisted those participants.

Most of the survey consisted of multiple-choice questions. But three of the questions were open-ended, allowing participants to choose their own words.

Their words, the organizers said, were moving.

More than 125 survey participants said either no one cares about them or they don’t know who cares about people like them in this economy. Another 70 people said only they, family and others in difficult financial circumstances care.

Write-in responses included: “I don’t believe people like me are on anyone’s radar,” “It’s every man for himself now,” and “My family. We have become a society of me, not we.”

“A lot of people are out there suffering,” said Gayle Goodrich, a volunteer who has worked with the survey project since 2010, its second year.

Goodrich, who earned a master’s degree in sociology at IPFW, has played a key role in designing the questions and tabulating the answers. She is also the AFL-CIO community service liaison director of labor and community services, the local liaison between labor and United Way of Allen County.

“The purpose of this is to reach out in the community to people who have been left out of the conversation about the economy,” she said. “It’s not a research project.”

That’s a good thing, said Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW. Because the group’s methodology is flawed, he said.

“The danger is that people will want to use that data to generalize to the entire population,” he said.

Downs prefers to rely on scientifically crafted surveys, which he admits can be prohibitively expensive for nonprofit organizations to perform.

Goodrich doesn’t think an expensive scientific survey is the answer.

“When you get money involved, sometimes that can taint things,” she said. “And, obviously, we don’t want that.”

Lewandowski feels a responsibility to represent people on society’s fringes.

“We don’t want people to feel like they’re being heard,” he said. “We want them to know they’re being heard.”

The Unemployed and Anxiously Employed Workers’ Initiative uses the survey results to determine the organization’s priorities over the coming year.

Survey results show, for example, that 77 percent of participants are experiencing a downturn or no change in their household economy. Only 23 percent said their family’s finances are improving.

Of the respondents, 52 percent said they have very little or no job security. Of course, only those people with jobs filled out that question, Goodrich said.

Survey participants overwhelmingly indicated that government should play a significant role in managing the economy. They also soundly supported the idea of imposing requirements on companies receiving job creation incentives. The most commonly chosen options – with more than 200 respondents each – were livable wages, health care benefits and full-time status.

The Workers’ Initiative’s leaders represent those preferences when speaking at Fort Wayne City Council meetings on tax abatements, for example.

Some of the survey participants were homeless at the time they completed the form. Many others said they’ve given up on the hope of ever retiring. On a larger scale, numerous people predicted increased crime in the community as a result of what the survey writers described as an ongoing recession.

Lewandowski wants to share the survey results with anyone who will listen. In his opinion, the people who completed the surveys deserve nothing less.

“These are folks who are always talked about and never listened to,” he said. “The voices are real.”