June 19, 2021

I’m a 61-year-old carpenter in Iowa who’s been losing customers since February. I’m starting to feel more confident about riding it out.



a man wearing glasses: Paul Krueger. Courtesy of Paul Krueger; Shayanne Gal/Business Insider


© Courtesy of Paul Krueger; Shayanne Gal/Business Insider
Paul Krueger. Courtesy of Paul Krueger; Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

  • The Unemployed States of America takes readers deep inside the decimated American workforce.
  • Paul Krueger is a 61-year-old carpenter based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
  • Krueger has worked in carpentry all his life and ran his own business specializing in cabinet making and custom woodwork.
  • He began losing customers in February as COVID-19 cases picked up throughout the state.
  • If work doesn’t pick up soon, Krueger says he may only last through September before he’ll need to shut down his design shop, and is worried about finding a fair-paying job at his age. 
  • This is his story, as told to Nick Dauk.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

I’ve been a carpenter all of my life and left a big company in Georgia to move closer to my family in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I started working for outfits doing cabinet installation and trim but got bored with the cookie-cutter designs pretty quickly. 

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I took on smaller projects independently, like creating cabinets for remodeled houses, and eventually I rented out a shop. When I was given the opportunity to complete work on a 100-year-old housing project in 2016, I decided to start my own company, LK Design. I specialized in cabinet-making and custom woodwork.

Business really started slowing down for me in February due to the virus; by March it was pretty much stopped.

Everyone was trying to stay safe; no one was interested in inviting contractors into their homes. Because clients didn’t know what would happen with their jobs, they were reserving their money. One of my projects, outfitting an ultra-custom tiny home, immediately shut down. 

The impact was pretty sudden, as we weren’t aware that lumber yards weren’t restocking materials. For a few of my jobs, the client’s desired wood was unavailable, so I had to purchase a more costly grain or species of wood, which then decreased my total profit. 

My business came to a full stop, except for paying the bills. My shop operating costs include electricity and gas. A lot of money is also tied up in machinery, but thankfully, I haven’t needed to sell any of my assets yet. Right now, I’ve been keeping busy by doing maintenance around my shop.  

I’m 61, so I stay socially distant from everyone and don’t go into stores.

Although people are still being responsible with social distancing and mask wearing, I’m still extremely careful. I’ve been making ends meet by using my savings, collecting unemployment, and accepting help from family. 

When the derecho hit us, it brought different challenges than the coronavirus. The after-effects from these storms will impact our town for years. Even a week later, we still didn’t have power restored. The storm will also impact my business, as people are now investing in new roofs, new siding, tree removal, and other storm repairs. Even if insurance covers interior damage, it will only be enough for store-bought cabinets, not custom work from carpenters like me.

If I don’t get consistent work in the near future, I can only make it through September, maybe October, before I need to pull the plug.

It’s a scary situation, it really is. I’ve been self-employed most of my life and don’t know what I’ll do if my business can’t continue. I’ll try to do installation-only work and take custom orders from out of state, but it may not be enough. I’m 61; it’ll be hard to find a company that’s going to want to hire me for a decent wage. I know Social Security is an option, but I consider that a last-ditch effort.

I don’t know when this is going to be over, but I’m starting to feel more confident about riding it out. People are being responsible, and I feel like that’s one of the things that’s going to help us get through this.

This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed were submitted by the subject as part of a survey conducted by Business Insider.

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