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The voices of San Francisco's unemployed speak up

Courtesy of Flikr user Sunset Parkerpix

Close to 100,000 jobless Californians will lose as many as 20 weeks of federal unemployment insurance benefits by the end of May. Improvements in California’s economy and a drop in the unemployment rate will end an extension of federal benefits. At an Employment Development Department on Franklin and Turk, KALW’s Angela Johnston spoke to Little Vila, John Saunders, Maurice Gonzales and Yvette, who wouldn’t give her last name. Here are their thoughts on being unemployed in today’s economy:

LITTLE VILA: My name is Little, 34 years old, and currently looking for a job in San Francisco.

JOHN SAUNDERS: My name is John Saunders. I’m from San Francisco. I’m 61.

MAURICE GONZALES: My name is Maurice Gonzales.

YVETTE: Yvette… I am a behavioral specialist. I worked at a private hospital, and they just downsized and I just kind of was a victim of all that… I haven’t looked for a job in 13 years! So you know, things are different.

SAUNDERS: I was in business development. I was a manager in the chamber of commerce. I had my own business in New York for a long time.

GONZALES: I’m in security and personal protection. I’ve picked up other jobs though. It’s been hard. I was medically bound home for about a year, and so I’m just getting back into the field.

VILA: I worked with young people. I worked doing individual and group therapy with young people but our organization got, one of job sites got cut because of budget and funding restrictions. We were definitely affected by budget cuts.

VILA: In this field, for a livable wage, it’s very frustrating. It’s very hard.

YVETTE: Tiring. I’ve actually been walking for about I guess since about 7:30 this morning and my feet are really hurting right now. So far no calls, back. But I’m not discouraged yet. I’m just really … tired.

VILA: There’s either nothing, or with having a lot of experience; they’re looking for someone with more minimal, jobs that I wouldn’t really want to be doing. Jobs that, I shouldn’t say aren’t important. But just jobs that are not up to the challenge that I would like to be challenged with.

SAUNDERS:  There’s always a delay. It takes time… Well I find the people on the phone to be very helpful. It’s good if you have a positive attitude cause they seem to respond to that. If you argue with them, you aren’t going to get very far from what I can see.

GONZALES: Basically, it’s been horrible. They’re now claiming I owe them $5,000. They’re saying I have to pay it even though after they already made a decision, knowing that I picked up a part time job that only pays me three to four days a week, so they already made a determination saying that I’m eligible for unemployment. Now that my unemployment’s ran out and I had a telephone interview last week, they’re saying now that I owe them five plus thousand dollars, that I wasn’t eligible. So it’s their mistake and now I gotta pay them five plus thousand dollars back to them that they already dished out to me. So it doesn’t make sense. So in order for me to correct this, I have to make an appeal now and probably pay them back for the mistakes they made...

I just got off the phone with them. I’m trying to resolve this. They’re very rude. You ask to speak to the supervisor – they hang up the phone on you. I’m trying to resolve this. I have a medical condition. I pay for medicine out of pocket. I’m trying to look for a job. So it’s very hard for people right now.

VILA: You can stand in a line for up to an hour and not have your question answered. That’s just one example. People with either language barriers or learning differences such as learning disabilities – it’s very hard to understand some of these forms. So you get one or two workers who are trying very hard to help everybody, but you know they’re tired, their patience is tested, and they don’t always know how to work with people of various or learning difference.

YVETTE: An average day starts out with … well I guess it would start from the night before.

GONZALES: It starts anywhere from seven in the morning to six at night. And it’s stressful, just getting your resume together. The interviews. I guess they are looking for certain people, certain types. There is some kind of stigmatism out there. Some favoritism, still at this point, which here in 2012, it’s unbelievable that’s happening in this world. And maybe some racism that is out there.

YVETTE: So, I kind of set up what I’m going to do. Kind of try to make things in a round robin, so I start out at one point and end up in another point.

SAUNDERS: Well normally it focuses around looking for work, of course. Spending time looking at the website and trying to talk to people. Maybe going to an event if possible. It’s always good to go out and go to an event that changes everything rather than just looking at a computer screen all day long. That’s not that great.

YVETTE: And going from the farthest appointment away from the house and working my way back. I kind of have this little system. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, I beat the pavement. Thursdays I kind of look at what Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday looked like. And Friday I set up for the following week. So that’s what I’m doing right now.

LITTLE: An average day is morning job search. Lot’s of online research. Phone calls. Just being persistent. A lot of kind of leaving messages and returning emails.

YVETTE: Just following up leads and networking and getting my name out there, running into some old haunts that we kind of all know each other in the line of work. Seeing if what else is available out there. And also looking at some of my past work experience and seeing what’s available in those areas.

SAUNDERS: I’d like to get into something in business research, if possible.

VILA: Here in San Francisco. Not over in the East Bay… The commute and hours that it would take to get to work over there, versus living here in San Francisco and working in San Francisco. You’d be putting in two hours for a commute and that’s exhausting especially after a job that’s emotionally and physically taxing.

GONZALES: I can do just about anything, actually. I actually have a few interviews and I’m looking for a full time job maybe this week.

YVETTE: I have a lot of customer service, office work, hotel, front desk behind the counter, administrative skills that I can put to work. Right now it’s more of a we’ll get back to you. It’s kinda tight right now, budget cuts here and there. Well, I haven’t given up yet.

VILA: I had to resubmit all my claims so far, so I haven’t had any benefits paid to me. And one of the reasons, and I take responsibility, is not understanding the specific language that they want you to write on the form, and to not write. You write anything other than what they’re asking for, then it’s wrong. So it’s not very clear.

YVETTE: I’m not ready to lay down and die, so I have two children in college. And I’m really inspired to support them, you know they’re away from home, and I want them to be able to count on me.

I’ve been meeting some people who have some war stories about what they’ve been through and how long they’ve been unemployed and they’re just starting back to work. So I don’t really feel alone … It kind of softens the blow of not just immediately getting anything. I’ve also been inspired by some of the things that I’ve been hearing….

VILA: I can’t not be. I’ve been working with young people in various helping forms for 15 years. This isn’t the first time I’ve been laid off.

YVETTE: I’m just not really discouraged at this moment, right now. I’m not by myself.