Thursday, October 1, 2009

Job loss slows.

José walks along 6th Street singing along to something sweet on his iPod. At each parked car, he lifts the windshield wiper closest to the curb and slips a folded flyer underneath. Jersey Liquidators Furniture Showroom Closeout Sale and Tent Auction. He's got a backpack full of flyers, enough to hit the whole neighborhood. He gives me a big smile and I nod in his direction. Work is work, kimosabe. Last time I saw him, he had a city job, collecting coins out of parking meters. But the city had to lay off a bunch of people and José was low man on the totem pole.

"This doesn't even pay minimum wage, but I don't have to report it. That way I can keep getting the unemployment check. I'm getting by better than some others, but man, it's hard. How're you doin? Find anything?"

"Nah, not yet. Got a couple of temporary things here and there. But business is still in the toilet and I'm not expecting too much. I've got a friend who's opening a bookstore in Brooklyn. Every day people show up at the door lookin for a job. Well-dressed, articulate. People who can't find nothin in the city. For industries like publishing or journalism, a lot of these jobs are never comin back. It's frightening to see people with obsolete skills wanderin the streets."

"Well, they say it's turnin around cause the banks are doin good. I don't think so. Spend some time down at the shelter at lunchtime, you see what this is all about. People are hurtin." José helps out at the church-sponsored homeless shelter when he can. It gives him a chance to eat a square meal with the men and women who line up to get into the parish house basement where the food is doled out by volunteers. Soups, stews, bread, juice. And for dessert, a homemade sheet cake or store-bought cookies, a little something to go with the coffee.

A guy in a suit passes by and José greets him with a big smile too. I check the time and tell him I've got to run, I have a lunch meeting with a prospective employer. "Good luck, boss, I'll be pullin for you." In this economy, poot, there are winners and losers. Sometimes, though, I don't know how to tell one from the other.

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