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Jobless worker hasn’t given up hope, even after two years

Larry Raybuck is fixing a cup of coffee in his mini microwave when he tells the nearly perfect anecdote, the one that almost, but not quite, encapsulates an entire story in a sentence or two.

Raybuck is a 40-something blue-collar guy with a paunch and a woodworking habit.

“You heard of Sharon Stone?” he says. “Went to high school with her. She asked me to dance once, and I turned her down.”

The high school thing happened in a little town in the upper corner of Pennsylvania called Saegertown.

The story has no relation to right now, to the plight Raybuck has found himself navigating with varying degrees of success over the last couple of years.

And yet it almost does in the sense of an opportunity lost, a life taking the wrong direction, a tantalizing possibility vanishing just like that.

Raybuck lives alone in a small townhouse on the city’s west side. He used to work construction, used to tend bar. But now, he’s pretty much confined to searching the classifieds and the jobs boards, struggling through the state’s unemployment system, wondering how he is going to come up with next month’s mortgage payment, hoping against hope that the 19-year-old pickup he bought a few months back survives.

He is 49 years old, and he is the face of the new Nevada: unemployed, upside down and desperate.

“I’ve applied all over town,” he says.

Raybuck’s story is typical. He moved here during the boom years, saw good times for a while, bought while the market was going up. Everything was good for him until it all came crashing down.

He was raised in that small Pennsylvania town, but he knew he wasn’t going to stay there. He says unless you wanted to work in a factory and never make enough to buy a house, live the American dream, you had to go somewhere else.

So he joined the Marines. He traveled the world, got married. Then he got out, got divorced.

He learned carpentry and worked in that field for a while. He moved around a bit, bartended in Michigan, wrecked his Porsche, and had a new job every year. He knew he would never get a house living the unsettled life he had been living.

So seven years ago, he settled on Las Vegas. The economy was roaring, the cost of living was low, and there were jobs aplenty.

He tended bar at the Frontier, all the while planning on joining the real estate boom. Three years went by.

Then word came down that the Frontier would be shut down and blown up to make way for a bigger and grander Las Vegas experience. At first, nobody knew when that might happen.

Raybuck jumped into the real estate market because he figured he would never get a mortgage once the hotel shut down and he was out of a job. That was in 2006, when a 1,200-square-foot townhouse was selling for $230,000.

Sure enough, the Frontier shut down a year later.

Raybuck lived on unemployment and loans for a while. He got spotty work tending bar at conventions for a few months, but that started to dry up when the economy began to slide.

He got on at the Stratosphere tending bar, but only lasted a few months before new owners came in and laid off the newest staffers as the economy continued its tumble.

Raybuck went back to carpentry. He worked at the Echelon Place project, which was to be the replacement for the Stardust. But a month into his work there, the whole project was shut down. Again, the economy was to blame.

On his last day there, a guy was driving around the job site in a golf cart, handing out checks. Raybuck said to a co-worker: “We’re done.”

He got hired on a little while later at the Fontainebleau Resort. He worked for a month and a half before — guess what? — the economy killed the whole project.

That was in February 2009.

“Haven’t worked since, I’m ashamed to tell you,” Raybuck says.

He has been on one form or another of unemployment for almost two years now.

He has applied for jobs at so many places that a few of them have changed ownership and he has had to reapply.

He has had a couple of bites, including two that went so far he had to go in for drug testing. But none turned into jobs.

Raybuck has high hopes, though. He knows a guy who might be able to work something out for him come March or April, but none of it is a sure thing.

He fills his time with books, TV and his woodworking shop in his garage. He is making a table for a neighbor, and plans to make one for himself to go with his driftwood TV stand.

He renegotiated his mortgage so that his payment is around $1,000 a month now. An identical townhouse to his sold a few weeks ago for a third of what Raybuck paid.

Unemployment pays him a little less than $400 a week. That leaves precious little for gasoline, food, the power bill, car insurance and other necessities, not to mention credit card debt he can’t pay anymore.

He refuses to leave town and let the bank foreclose on his home, and he won’t even talk about bankruptcy.

“I’m not doing that,” he says. “I know I can get going again. I know I can.”

He figures bankruptcy stays on your record forever, and ruins your credit for 10 years. Besides, it would mean you’ve given up on yourself. Raybuck won’t do that, despite the hole he finds himself in.

“I can dig out of this in two years,” he says. Once he gets working. Until then, he needs to stay afloat.

So when a glitch a few weeks ago halted his unemployment, he freaked out a little. He already is on what’s called Tier III, a federally funded extension. When the payments halted, he called and called, but couldn’t get through.

When he visited the state’s unemployment offices, he was told everything had been taken care of and that he should be able to continue filing his claim like he always had.

But the automated telephone system wouldn’t let him.

Five visits to the state offices later — including on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve — he was assured everything had been fixed. It was all a “computer glitch,” and he had nothing to worry about.

Did it work?

Raybuck whips out his cell phone. He listens to the automated voice for a minute and smiles.

“It came through,” he says. “Finally.”

The perfect anecdote.

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0307.

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