In Illinois the unemployment rate remains persistently high. Figures for July 2012 revealed an 8.9 percent rate, which is 0.6 percent higher than the national average, according to the Illinois Unemployment Department of Numbers.
Despite slow growth of traditional jobs, people are overcoming these obstacles through creative and intuitive endeavors.
Take, for instance, New Lenox's Patrick Kukosh, a 42-year-old union painter who has been out of a laborer's job for two years. His wife, Kristy, is a pediatrics nurse at the University of Chicago Hospital; the couple has a home and three children to raise. The house is neither big nor new. It's an average three-bedroom frame home.
He built the second-floor addition himself in 2005. He added landscaping, and she took pains to plant colorful annuals around the maple tree and in the front yard. Occasionally a bicycle or a doll gets left out front; that gives it a homey, welcoming flavor. In the backyard, Pat built a deck and put up a playhouse for the kids.
While they didn't live lavishly, they were comfortable in a community that was safe and the schools were good. The Kukosh's befriended their neighbors and regularly offered a helping hand with lawn projects or repairs on small motor equipment.
They frequently hosted extended family parties in the backyard. Laughter and not-too-loud music emanated regularly from the tan house that he re-sided himself. A basketball hoop stands at the side of the driveway that leads to a single-car garage. There's usually a pickup truck or an SUV parked out front.
The Kukosh's were an example of the middle-class American Dream. Then the economy tanked and the pendulum for economic growth moved too slowly. Kukosh lost his job.
Job loss and a fresh start
One income wasn't enough to sustain the family. For months during late 2010 and 2011, Kukosh worked odd jobs painting the inside and outside of people's homes and hiring out as an all-round handyman. He started his own painting company; he created signs and flyers. But the lack of a marketing budget combined with an overall diminished economy resulted in sporadic income. Without a steady stream of income, keeping a dependable household budget was impossible, he said.
But the couple grew close under these economic strains. The two were determined to maintain a sustainable lifestyle that would allow the family to thrive.
While watching PBS shows along with the History Channel's "American Pickers" and "Pawn Stars," the two landed on an idea. They adapted the theme of gathering hidden treasures at auctions, yard, estate and garage sales and made it work for them. He researched antiques and learned what was popular in vintage collectibles and more.
Now, as he peruses tables of used household goods, toys and equipment, "I can spot antiques" a mile away, Pat said.
Initially the couple started out shopping garage sales and then hosting their own. "Pat's not lazy. He works hard," said his wife.
At first he sought out pieces of furniture, lawn mowers or snow blowers and the like that he could simply repair. He could give them new life, said Kristy, and resell them. However, the two learned that a village ordinance allows a single household about three garage sales a year. The Kukosh's never argued the point. It made sense that the village would take pains to protect neighborhoods from burdensome crowds and cars lining the streets, while shoppers looked for deals.
The couple then broadened their approach to include the sale of their rejuvenated goods at auctions. Pat regularly goes to auctions along with garage, yard and estate sales. That's where he finds worthwhile pieces.
"We used to go to storage shed auctions," said Kristy, "but it was sad. You'd find old family photos. …I didn't like it. I felt bad going through someone's personal things because they didn't have the money (to pay for the storage unit.)"
In the places where the Kukosh's prefer to shop, they've managed to acquire enough to keep up the momentum.
Pat said, "I've found vintage toys and paid $1 for them, and later I sold them for $150 on eBay or Craigslist. I had a piece (purchased for a few dollars) and sold it for $450 on eBay to some guy in Europe," he said.
People have been really receptive to the items he advertises on Craigslist. They come out and look at it.
The daily routine has changed
Gone are the days when Pat would kiss his wife goodbye at 6 a.m. Monday-Friday and back out of the driveway with a pickup truck stuffed with ladders and painting supplies. Today he's either working in the garage stripping varnish off old pieces of furniture or repainting selected pieces with a fresh "art deco" flair.
And the kids don't need a babysitter as often as they did when the two were working away from home full-time. Most days Pat is able to work from home, at least part of the day. However, about 3:30 a.m. most Sundays Pat heads out with a truck full of items to set-up at an auction in the area. The couple's 9-year-old son Josh has taken a liking to traveling with his dad on Sundays. It's given the two a chance to bond.
Sure the income is not as much as it was when he worked full-time in a union job, but the family remains optimistic. Pat said he looks forward to opening his own resale shop, but Kristy isn't comfortable yet with the idea. "I want to wait awhile," she added.
At the same time, the new venture has given Pat a chance to apply an artistic flair that he hadn't really tapped before. "He's good; he's creative," said Kristy. "It's really pretty," when he finishes with an old dresser or china cabinet. "He gives it a new look," she said.
Kristy admitted that Pat's lay-off impacted the whole family, but it's not all bad. "We really have a respect for recycling and find new uses for (furniture and clothes.)," she said.
It's been a healthy challenge, he said.
Resourcefulness Under Pressure
Nancy Hoehn, economic development director for the Village of New Lenox, referred to ventures such as the one that the Kukosh Family has created as a bona fide micro-business. She gives the family high marks for their ingenuity and resourcefulness under pressure.
"Having to feed the family" is inspiration enough for a lot of families in tough economic times, she said. Difficult economic situations have a tendency to stir innovation.
Citing the popularity of the village-sponsored French Market on Saturday mornings in seasonal weather is another example of American resourcefulness. The vendors come out with fresh baked goods, hand-crafted jewelry and artistic pieces.
In days gone by people used to scoff or look down at resale shops or street vendors, but that's not the case today. Citing the popularity of the chain of Goodwill stores, including the one on U.S. Route 30, it's plain to see that people have grown to respect the idea of reusing and recycling goods. "It's about getting the best deals," Hoehn added.
"People brag about the deal they got, not about where they bought something," she said.
Look at ShareFest, which lasts from Sept. 1-Sept. 11, she said. This is 11 days of giving that the community has embraced because they understand that there is plenty of need in the community. "There is more awareness of how families are hurting. People can relate to it."
Realizing a passion for a new career
New Lenox-based Renee Perry, a small business coach who works out of her home, considers the Kukosh Family business along with new ventures that have cropped up over the past three or four years as people realizing their "passions."
Speaking about a person's passion, she said, Pat may never have realized his artistic sense if he had remained solely a house painter. Now he has an opportunity to channel his abilities in a different manner.
When faced with job loss or life-changing circumstances that pertain to family income, she said, "There are two different ways of dealing with the situation. You either fade away or adapt."
For folks like the Kukosh's and venders that frequent the French Market, it's not unusual that the focus of the new business has been something they've thought about, pondered and put on the shelf because time didn't allow for it.
"But now they're ready. …When you have a couple working together that helps to keep a balance."
Perry's advice for upcoming entrepreneurs:
- identify what your really want
- define your notion of success
- don't listen to the naysayers
As a business coach, Perry suggests that small business owners stay proactive in developing opportunities for their business.