Deana Payton

When Deana Payton graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with an MBA in 2001, the Roseland native thought her days of working two jobs to keep up with her bills were over.

“I really thought I was going to make some money, that this would be the ticket that I would not just make ends meet but also exceed,” Payton said.

Nine years later, she’s earning less than what she made before entering graduate school and is still struggling to find a full-time job.

When she turned 35, Payton thought she was finally on her way up the corporate ladder when she landed a job as an assistant media planner for a downtown advertising firm. Then one of the company’s biggest clients pulled out when the economy got shaky in 2007. That cost Payton–”and most of her colleagues–”her job.

Since then, the Julian High School graduate has picked up other jobs in the Loop, mostly doing temporary office work. On her days off, she has filled in as a substitute teacher for Chicago Public Schools to make some extra money. Most recently, she worked at an AT&T call center. That helped tide her and her 7-year-old son over, but she continued to look for a higher-paying job. She’s still looking. Payton lost her job at AT&T in April and has been collecting unemployment benefits since.

“I did my homework. I did what I was supposed to do,” the 40-year-old said from an employment support program at the not-for-profit National Able Network. She spends her days there trying to beef up her resume.

“It’s to the point now where I’m just trying to get a job,” Payton said.

is a staff reporter at The Chicago Reporter.