California Seniors Want Stimulus Help

California Seniors Want Stimulus Help

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 “I still love and support my President,” says Thelma Davis, (not her real name) an unemployed older worker, “but I wonder if he knows what’s going on out here?”

Davis, 55, worked tirelessly on behalf of candidate Obama as part of an enthusiastic group of supporters in the Riverside area. Nevertheless, as an African- American in the Inland Empire, she questions if Stimulus funds are helping her community where unemployment and foreclosures rates are high.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the ‘Stimulus’ was enacted to jump-start an economy on the brink of ‘falling off a cliff’ as described by the Obama Administration. However, as Inland unemployment continues to hover near 15%, many are questioning the usefulness of the $862 billion dollar Stimulus in creating jobs.

Older workers in particular are struggling with employment issues as they watch pensions and home equity evaporate. Even those who worked hard to get President Obama elected are beginning to wonder if his policies will be effective.

“The Stimulus was a good idea,” says Davis. “But, I’m not sure the funds were dispersed to the right people or the right places.”

Before she joined the ranks of the unemployed, Davis ran a job placement business for over nine years. The former small business owner, who says she placed “everyone from janitors to executives,” started seeing job orders decline long before Obama took office. “The past three to four years have been bad in the labor market,” she says. “I closed my office and became home-based, but still the business wasn’t there so I had to look for work in a different industry.” She did not lose sight of the irony of having to look for a job for herself after years of placing others in positions.

As an older worker, Davis knew it was in her best interest to retrain. “I decided to pursue the healthcare industry,” she says. “Everything I read told me healthcare was a job growth industry, so I took out student loans and completed a Medical Assistant training program.” Although she completed her training and internship a year ago, she still has not found a job in the medical field. “I know how to aggressively look for a job,” says Davis. “I taught others how to job hunt for years. But this market is one of the toughest I’ve ever seen.” She says she left no stone unturned and has contacted every medical facility and Doctor’s office in the area. “I don’t just call or send out resumes,” she says. “I get dressed and go into offices to apply or leave paperwork. I’ve gotten a few call backs, but no job offers.”

Not all of Davis’s job-hunting experiences have been pleasant.

She recounts a time when she worked as an unpaid intern at a medical facility as part of her training. “I worked with their staff of Medical Assistants and they all said I was the best intern they had ever had. I was punctual and professional and always willing to help out where I could in the medical office -- pulling charts, getting examination rooms ready, assisting patients – these were my duties. Imagine my surprise when one afternoon our manager told me to go outside and sweep the parking lot. Even the other girls were embarrassed for me. They had never been asked to do this. I swept the parking lot as she requested but that night I went home and cried.”

Davis believes her race and age are adding to her job hunting challenges. “I am talked down to a lot,” she says. “Frequently I hear ‘You’re very intelligent and you speak so well.’ Or, they’ll say, ‘You’re dressed so nice.’” In addition, she says potential employers assume she is not tech-savvy because of her age. She also attributes her lack of job offers to not being bi-lingual. “I get this a lot,” she says.

“Especially in this area, it seems employers are only interested in people who can speak Spanish.” The Perfect Storm

Davis, like other older ethnic job hunters in the Inland Empire (western Riverside and San Bernardino Counties), is faced with a Perform Storm of conditions that make finding a job difficult.

Challenges include her race, her location, and her age.

African-Americans historically have higher unemployment and the recession is continuing the pattern. In April, the official national unemployment rate for Blacks (16.5 percent) was over twice as high as that for Asians (6.8 percent) and significantly higher than the rate for Hispanics (12.5 percent).

In addition, as a resident of Riverside, Davis lives in a County where unemployment has hovered between 14 and 15% the past few months. There is extreme competition for jobs, with many residents finding they must travel many miles from home, to Los Angeles or Orange counties, to find jobs.

Palbinder Badesha, owner of Express Employment Professionals in Corona, says she sees many job-hunters in their late fifties and sixties – many of whom thought they would be retired, but must continue working because of economic conditions.

“I am shocked by the number of seniors who are applying for jobs,” she says. “Some haven’t worked for ten years or more and have to return to work. Others had management jobs before receiving lay-off notices. These are the hardest to place because they try to retain their previous salary.”

Badesha says that as a community partner, she feels compelled to attend local senior job fairs, but there are few offers made and many applicants. “It is tragic,” she says, “some of the elders looking for work look very frail and not physically able to hold a job.”

Current California projections indicate that by 2030 older workers will comprise a large proportion of the state’s workforce; however, Davis worries about employment opportunities today.

She says, “Out of almost 200 resumes and daily visits to potential employers, I’ve only had six interviews and no offers. I’m even applying for retail jobs now… anything to keep my house.”

Davis says she would travel to help medical providers in Haiti if she could. “I went to New Orleans after the hurricane to take supplies and lend a hand and I would do the same for the people in Haiti,” she says. “But now I’m the one who needs help. I need a job.”