Union County resident Ralph Burrell knows all too well what it is like to lose a job. He can identify with the millions who, in the past four years, suddenly found themselves collecting unemployment.
One day in late February 1991, Burrell, then 50, went to work at a steel mill near Milton as if it was any other day. He had been there 13 years.
Suddenly, with no advance notice, the plant that employed 400 shut down.
"I was running a crane, and the workers started walking out. As I watched them, I thought they had a break down. I thought a big transformer went out and that they couldn't run the big electric furnace," Burrell said.
"So I got down from my crane and asked what was going on. My boss said 'They have shut the whole place down. You have 30 minutes to get out,' " Burrell said, remembering the day like it was yesterday.
He said he felt like he was kicked in the stomach.
"There was no warning at all, nothing," Burrell, of Mifflinburg, said.
The permanent layoff began a job search that lasted three years, Burrell said.
"When you lose your job in a split second, it disrupts your life. It caused a divorce. Soon after I lost my job, my wife walked out," he said.
"We used to be the most powerful country in manufacturing, but we're certainly not that anymore, heaven sakes, no. I think it is due to darn poor government, that is all I can say," said Burrell, who has three grown children and four grandchildren.
"I would still do the work today. I know I would if the opportunity was there. If they needed a guy right now, I would go. I was a machine operator all my life. I liked doing it," said the man who was born on Pearl Harbor Day.
He finally landed a job in 1994 at a harvesting equipment manufacturer but, seven years later, he was forced to take early retirement at age 60.
"There was nothing I could do, nothing around, everything was down so bad, I just decided to retire," he remarked.
"People need jobs. People need a place to work, but they have torn down most of the factories like the one where I used to work," Burrell said.
Most of the manufacturing jobs are gone for good, he said.
"They are overseas, that's where they went," Burrell added.