Streets across America have become the sounding board for the majority that refuses to remain silent in such turbulent economic times. The cry is for jobs, for economic justice, for a fair shake at making a decent living. AFRO reporters hit the streets of Baltimore, the District of Columbia and Prince George’s County to engage those who are struggling with unemployment and the accompanying challenges. This regular series will share their plight, one which is common to so many. What does it take to survive?
Thomas Good Jr.
Baltimore City resident Thomas Good Jr. said, after being unemployed for three years, he was happy to find work last year as a bus operator for the Maryland Transit Authority (MTA). But the 25-year-old explained that a minor mishap led to his termination from the company. “I got terminated because someone ran into the back of my bus,” he said. “I think that was a waste of taxpayers’ dollars because [I was] trained, I got paid every week and was given my [commercial driver’s license]. [They] terminated me because of an accident that was no fault of my own.”
Good said that ever since the incident, he’s been on a hard quest to find a new job. He’s looked for other driving jobs, but he said that no one will hire him because of his history at MTA. At this point, he says that he’s willing to take nearly whatever he can find. “I’ll do anything,” he said. “The only thing that I won’t do is work at McDonalds. Not saying that anything is wrong with working there, but I have my CDL so why do I have to resort to that?"
He added that the whole ordeal has been extremely frustrating, especially because he opted to follow the right path growing up. “I’m from one of the worst areas in this whole city — Lexington Terrace,” he said. I graduated from Walbrook High School when I was 15. I’ve never been this down in my life and I’m trying to do the right thing.”
He explained that relying on his parents has been his sole way of getting by. “If it wasn’t for my mother and father, I don’t know what I would do,” he said. “I can call them to get money here and there, but they got stuff that they have to do, too, and I don’t feel comfortable asking them. I’m barely making it.”
Baltimore resident Sylvia Blakely has been out of work for three years. The North Carolina native says that although she holds a master's degree in social work from Howard University, she believes she's getting turned down by employers because she's middle-age.
"Going on a million interviews only to be turned down [is frustrating]," she said. "It's very discouraging because I feel like I'm marketable, I feel like I have experience. A lot of people look at older women like [we're not capable], but we're responsible and we're dependable."
Blakely explained that out of desperation, she's attempted to apply for jobs everywhere, including McDonalds and WalMart. But she hasn't had any luck.
"I do everything I can to keep busy because I've never been a couch potato–that's just not me," she said. "I try to stay positive, but I'm really thinking about leaving Baltimore. I just want to go wherever I can get hired so I can live my life like everyone else."
Damian Carlton says that his criminal background has kept him out of work since he was released from prison in 2008. He explained that he could have received athletic scholarships from numerous universities, but he became incarcerated right before his high school graduation.
Now, with three kids to take care of, Carlton says he's willing to accept anything to provide for his family.
"I've applied for everything from the top to the bottom," he said. I think the bottom is McDonalds because anybody can get that job. I applied and the manager told me that it was no way that he would hire me because he has 10 to 20 high school students come apply weekly who don't have criminal backgrounds. I did 10 years."
Carlton added that he's completed culinary school and has graduated from various job readiness programs throughout the city, but nothing has come to fruition. He explained that his sole source of income is a monthly $185 check from social services.
"I got three kids and a lot going on," he said. "What is there to do?"
PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY
In this very difficult economy, being unemployed affects people in different ways. For Clinton resident, Daniel Green, it has been especially difficult as he continues to search for different solutions to the issue.
A former salesman for Apple, Green has currently been unemployed for 12 months. Right now, he’s extremely frustrated with the current job market, which he termed “depressing.”
In the midst of his unemployment, Green spent some time working as an apprentice at an auto mechanics shop in Virginia, but was not paid for that apprenticeship.
In the meantime, without any current income, the Bowie State grad depleted his savings. Despite his frustration, he’s doing his best to keep living his life as he just returned from a trip to California and is still searching for new job.
Jessica Nichols was working part-time for three months from February until May of this year. She left her job at an afterschool program in Laurel just one day before she went into labor with her son.
Now, in October, Jessica decided not to return to that minimum wage job because after weighing the salary versus the cost of child care, she said it wasn’t economical for her to return to work.
At this point, she can only focus on what she can do to take care of her four and a half month-old son, no matter how frustrating it’s gotten for her.
“My back is not against the wall yet, but eventually I need to get my own place, a better car and definitely more things for my son and myself,” Nichols said. “I had to implement some forms of coping mechanisms to stay sane and to cut down on the frustration levels I've been experiencing.”
She says she’s taken a small break from her job hunt after her last interview, for which she was recruited for, resulted in no post-interview correspondence.
When she returns to her job search, the 27-year-old hopes to be a counselor, but for right now she says she’s just trying to remain positive for her son.
Bowie resident Rainia McWhirter, a former executive assistant for a major corporation said she is, "disappointed, upset and depressed." She continued, "I've been personally been out of work since October. Nothing. When you go in for the interview you have 50 other candidates who are interviewing for the position. They don't call you back to say, “Thank you,” for your time. Then they are having problems with the unemployment benefits. They say you haven't worked in a year. I'm a single mom and have a child in college. How are you supposed to make it?
"I think they are just choosing a certain person. What that type of person is, I'm not sure. When you have 50 candidates out there it's like the odds of winning the lottery."
"I don't feel as though President Obama has done enough for the poor communities," according to New Black Panther Party member, Hassan Shabazz, 45, who's also a laid off construction worker. "All the poor Blacks are getting evicted in Southeast. All of the unemployed Blacks in D.C. alone…He's got to come back to the Black community one day, and the poor, disadvantaged, disenfranchised is going to remember how he acted like a Uncle Tom, stooge in the White House."
Gerard Bingham II
Gerard Bingham II, 22, is a May graduate of Hampton University and was hired at Friday's restaurant in July. The Greenbelt resident said, "I believe the economy is the worst! They encourage people to go to school and college then when you come out, we're supposed to be better than the people who didn't go to school. But we are in the same boat. People who didn't get to college at all are working at Friday's and I graduated and I work there. Sometimes I think to myself was [college] really worth it? There's really no jobs open. It's false advertisement and I think it's messed up. It hasn't been that long, but still. I know people who are in my field who are working in my field. So it's kind of depressing knowing that as well."
"Just listening to people in my single member District and their woes, on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the worst, we're like at an 8 1/2. …if you have a way to have a hustle, that's what people are forced to do. [In regards to the American Jobs Act] I hope it works. I think we need to see more than hear speeches now."
"[In regards to gentrification and its effect on fewer jobs in Ward 8] We already know Ward 8 is going to be the next Georgetown so why don't they give those who need a GED jobs?"