Tess Vigeland: This idea that being unemployed somehow makes you unemployable? That’s not an acceptable idea to any of the folks I met this week at a job fair in South Los Angeles.
On any other day, the Faith Dome at Crenshaw Christian Center would be home to prayers of all kinds. But it’s safe to say that on Wednesday, the prayers, hope, crossed fingers, good luck wishes focused on just one thing: Please let me find a job.
Female announcer: Ladies and gentlemen in section H, as you go out to the job fair, please note that there is a line the first section…
The event was called “For the People,” one of several held in cities across the country, organized by the Congressional Black Caucus. Spokeswoman Stephanie Young told us more than 7,000 had filed through the church doors before one o’clock that afternoon.
We asked a few of them — almost all were African-Americans — to tell us their stories.
Brenda Williams: My name is Brenda Williams. I’m a native here of Los Angeles, Calif. And I am here to get the job waiting for me.
Vigeland: What is your current job situation, your current employment situation?
Williams: Well, I’ve been unemployed for about eight months. I am a job developer. I have taught what I am here to do today.
Vigeland: So eight months ago, you were counseling people on how to find a job.
Williams: Absolutely. Creating job clubs, teach them to how to dress, how to prepare.
Vigeland: What has the job hunt been like for you?
Williams: Job seeking has been difficult. You have to have a strategy. Now my strategy was not to be here, but I got a phone call early. I went down to the work source center and they said, “Do you know about the job fair today?” And I wasn’t going to come, but that little voice in my mind said, “You better go.” So that means there’s a job here for me today. and I’m gonna get it.
Male announcer: Thank you for your patience. Have your card out so that you can turn it in as you exit the door. A new opportunity waits for you right outside. Have your card out so you can turn it in as you exit the door.
Brenda, by the way, is 49 years old.
Alexander Richardson, 47 years old from L.A., was in a group that would be next to exit the church for the parking lot, where potential employers sat in tents. He’s been working off and on for about a year and a half in temporary jobs after getting laid off from a supervisory position in a warehouse.
Alexander Richardson: Well, it’s been an up and down roller coaster, because I worked when and where I can. But I’m looking for something way more permanent.
Vigeland: How did you survive without a paycheck or at least not a permanent paycheck for that long?
Richardson: Well, I had to get government assistance. And I had to find out where they were giving out food or whatever, because you have to make means where the means are necessary. And I made do. I kept the faith and I knew that God had a place for me to be. And all I had to do was keep one foot forward and I would get to that place eventually.
He says his dream job would be something in marketing or sales.
Male announcer: Alright, here we go you guys! We’re just about next. So I want you guys to be encouraged, motivated and stimulated!
Male announcer: Let’s hear it for A Section!
Outside, we found more job seekers. Also seeking shelter from the sun and heat in between visits to the tents, 63-year-old Josephine Cobbs, also from L.A. Decided a couple of years ago that she would go back to school and get her bachelor’s degree. She supported that effort with a blue collar job at the Staples Center. Then she was laid off.
Josephine Richardson: As a student, you can’t really focus on your studies if you can’t pay your rent. So that’s what brought me here today. But I’m still working to stay positive. I’m gonna get back to school. I’m gonna complete my degree.
Vigeland: How long have you been actively looking for a full-time job?
Richardson: Um… Since my hours were cut, which was 2008.
Vigeland: What have those three years been like for you?
Richardson: Well, I’ve made them a positive, because I’ve been doing a lot of volunteer work.
Vigeland: But you can’t live on a check for volunteer work.
Richardson: No you can’t. But guess what? I found out if you don’t get up and you don’t stay active, you lose your enthusiasm and you can become very depressed because of the situation. And on top of that, when you put volunteer service on your resume, it really is a positive to employers. Because they feel, “Well, you’re not just sitting around waiting for a job to come to you.” And one day with my volunteer work and skills, you never know, someone may offer me a job.
Female announcer: OK, if you’re just entering, please note that the A tents and booths…
Michelle Johnson traveled all the way from Riverside to attend the fair. She is 41 and was laid off from a banking industry job two and a half years ago.
Michelle Johnson: I’ve had part-time jobs in between. Well yeah, two and a half years I’ve been looking for full-time employment. It’s been two and a half years of some of the biggest challenges you’re gonna see. Unemployment, it’s helped a lot, because of the extensions. But when an extension runs out, you’re out of luck.
Vigeland: So how have you been able to manage with your finances?
Johnson: Not very well. Families and friends support, but not very well. I’m struggling, like everybody else where, I’m struggling and I’m looking.
Vigeland: What kind of job are you looking for?
Johnson: My background is banking; admin is what I do. So I’m looking for anything where I can utilize the skills that I have learned in banking — you know, customer service, computers, trying to pretty much crossing industries to try to make myself more employable.
Vigeland: How have the last two and a half years changed what you see your life is going to be like down the line?
Johnson: Well, I can definitely say that it’s made me realize that you definitely have to stay proactive and you have to keep your options open. I don’t know if anyone that thinks that there is such a thing as job security anymore. Pretty much everybody I know, we joke amongst ourselves that you always keep your resume ready and always keep it updated.
Vigeland: Thank you for speaking with us and best of luck to you today.
Johnson: Thank you. You have a great day.
As we wrapped up our conversation with Johnson, a Latino gentleman sitting just behind her and to the left, indicated he’d like to speak with us. And he had a fairly large grin on his face.
Pedro Baez: Well my name is Pedro Baez, I’m from Harbor City, Calif. And today, after 16 months of being unemployed, I have a job. I’ve been hired! I’m going to be starting work with an employer that looked at my resume and said, “This is exactly what we’re looking for and you will fit in as a financial planner.” How much better can you do than that?
I got laid off on May the fifth, 2010 at 10 o’ clock in the morning. I was ready to go back to work that very same day at 10:01. Been looking since that time. I’ve had about 30 interviews, no job offers and I was beginning to think that it was going to happen, that perhaps my employment career, after 30 years was over. But today, I felt inspired based upon what I heard last night from Congresswoman Waters that the one thing that these employers promised not to do was to discriminate because of age. And I am one of those senior citizens, 61 years of age and unemployed, but as of a few moments ago, I am now employed. And I am very happy.
At least for Pedro Baez, this will be a Labor Day worth celebrating.