"I need a freakin' job." That's the message President Obama saw as he arrived in Buffalo, N.Y., this afternoon for an event talking up the administration's success in creating new jobs. He also pitched Congress on approving a $30 billion credit for small-business growth.
Yet critics say Obama has been focusing his recovery efforts too narrowly and hasn't done enough to help people find work. After all, the latest job figures show 9.9 percent of the country still out of work. That inspired a group of unemployed Buffalo residents — who also have a website called INAFJ.org — to appeal to the president in the form of a billboard along the route his motorcade took into town.
Yet jobs aren't a huge priority for either party heading into the midterm campaigns, as Politics Daily's Jill Lawrence notes. That might be because other issues have taken precedence. A new Gallup poll finds that for the first time in two months, the issue of "jobs" has fallen to No. 2 on the list of issues Americans are most concerned about. The new No. 1 issue: The economy in general. White House officials defend their efforts on jobs, saying the president has been focused as much on creating new jobs as on "saving" current positions.
Ms. Norton, for her part, may be reluctant to acknowledge that many of her traditional administrative assistant skills are obsolete, but she has tried to retrain — or as she puts it, adapt her existing skills — to a new career in the expanding health care industry.
Even that has proved difficult.
She attended an eight-month course last year, on a $17,000 student loan, to obtain certification as a medical assistant. She was trained to do front-office work, like billing, as well as back-office work, like giving injections and drawing blood.
The school that trained her, though, neglected to inform her that local employers require at least a year’s worth of experience — generally done through volunteering at a clinic — before hiring someone for a paid job in the field.
She says she cannot afford to spend a year volunteering, especially with her student loan coming due soon. She has one prospect for part-time administrative work in Los Angeles — where she once had her own administrative support and secretarial services business, SilverKeys — but she does not have the money to relocate.
“If I had $3,000 in my pocket right now, I would pack up my S.U.V., grab my dog and go straight back,” she says. “That’s my only answer.”
With so few local job prospects and most of her possessions of value already liquidated she has considered selling her blood to help pay for the move. But she says she cannot find a market for that, either; blood collection agencies, she said, told her they do not buy her blood type.
“Sometimes I think I’d be better off in jail,” she says, only half joking. “I’d have three meals a day and structure in my life. I’d be able to go to school. I’d have more opportunities if I were an inmate than I do here trying to be a contributing member of society.”
Millions of workers who have already been unemployed for months, if not years, will most likely remain that way even as the overall job market continues to improve, economists say. The occupations they worked in, and the skills they currently possess, are never coming back in style. And the demand for new types of skills moves a lot more quickly than workers — especially older and less mobile workers — are able to retrain and gain those skills.
There is no easy policy solution for helping the people left behind. The usual unemployment measures — like jobless benefits and food stamps — can serve as temporary palliatives, but they cannot make workers’ skills relevant again.
Ms. Norton has sent out hundreds of résumés without luck. Twice, the openings she interviewed for were eliminated by employers who decided, upon further reflection, that redistributing administrative tasks among existing employees made more sense than replacing the outgoing secretary.
One employer decided this shortly after Ms. Norton had already started showing up for work.