Two years ago Jasmine Radloff, hands on hips, made an announcement.
"I know why I've been bitchy lately."
Joe Jagodzinski looked up from his video game. She had been.
Pivot. Stomp. Slam. Lock. Radloff flopped on the toilet and buried her face in her hands. She knew his reaction was going to be rotten, and she'd had enough rotten. Everything was rotten. Socks were on the bathroom floor. Toothpaste and whiskers coated the sink. His business had just gone belly up and she'd been laid off. Neither could find a job.
In the train wreck that was their life, how could they have another accident this big?
The 21-year-old and her 24-year-old partner would be starting a family as part of this recession's hardest-hit demographic. Although people ages 16 to 24 make up just 13 percent of the labor force, they represent 26 percent of the unemployed, according to a May study by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress. The youth unemployment rate is 19.6 percent, the highest for any age group since the government began keeping track in 1947. Youth unemployment has been consistently high throughout the downturn. A July Gallup poll reports one in three young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 are jobless or underemployed.
Jagodzinski knocked lightly. Radloff opened the door and tears were streaming down his face. She had never seen him cry. He wrapped her up and bawled tears of joy.
"But I hate kids," she remembers thinking.
Two years later she qualifies that. Fourteen-month-old Vaeden Liam Radloff pulls on the hair that Mom just styled for a part-time job interview. Radloff sniffs and detects diaper change No. 3 of the day. She wrinkles her nose, kisses her baby's forehead and hands him off to Dad.
"I hate all kids but this one," she says.
They are living in about 500 square feet, much of it in a converted garage that has not been drywalled. Exposed wiring snakes around the walls, but the rent is cheap, $450 a month.
For two years neither was able to find regular work. But Radloff recently got a part-time job cleaning animal cages at the SPCA in Largo. It pays $7.50 an hour. If she's lucky she can get 30 hours a week.
Jagodzinski's last job nibble was three months ago. They are living mostly off unemployment and whatever they own that will sell on Craigslist. Up next is their fish tank.
He has always been the guy who could fix things. When he was 16 he taught himself how to install a car stereo system. Within a few years he opened his own shop, Catastrophic Audio. Between making cars thump and working with his dad's charter fishing business he was making a good living. In 2007 both the charter fishing and the thump-thump business dried up. He and his father argued over money, then stopped speaking. The building owners put a padlock on the audio shop and sold the remaining woofers, tweeters, kickers and bass slammers to pay what he owed on the lease.
Vaeden's cry turns to a scream. Jagodzinski changes his diaper, swoops him up, spins him around and plops him onto the couch. His blue eyes brighten. His Disney laugh fills the room.
It feels good to be able to fix something.
John Pendygraft can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8247. For more in the One series, go to blogs.tampabay.com/photo. Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.