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“Work Is Work, No Matter What You Do”
Edwin Florentino, manager of the Career Link center in the Mission, believes the worst is still to come.

Edwin Florentino, manager of the Career Link center in the Mission, believes the worst is still to come.

“Work Is Work, No Matter What You Do”

Although the Mission District has been hit hard by the recession, residents are in some ways better psychologically equipped to deal with economic crisis.

MISSIONLOCAL.ORG (FEB. 7, 2009)
TEXT AND PHOTOS BY KATE KILPATRICK

Fifty-eight year old Patricia Urbina never thought she’d find herself inside the One Stop Career Link Center at 3120 Mission Street, which is where she and her husband spent Friday morning scouring job listings.

Urbina works full time as a credit analyst and collector for a major fashion designer, but recently had her workweek reduced to four days a week. She’s looking for a part-time job to supplement her income. Her husband Javier, 50, a slender man with a shy, infectious smile, has been out of work for five years. He comes to the center regularly to look for driver or custodian openings. Although he goes on interviews, he never seems to get a callback.

“We are in limbo without no luck, no jobs. It’s kind of scary,” said Patricia. “We have bills to pay, a home to pay, and no money.”

As the latest unemployment figures released this morning prove, the Urbinas are far from alone.

According to the Department of Labor, nearly 600,000 jobs were lost in January, driving the unemployment rate up to 7.6 percent from 7.2 percent in December. That’s 11.6 million people out of work. If part-time employees and discouraged workers are included, that number climbs to more than 15 million. California’s unemployment rate is 9.2 percent; in the Bay Area the figure stands at 7 percent.

The Mission District’s been hit hard. Edwin Florentino, manager of the One Stop Career Link, said that in the fall he saw 40 to 50 people a week coming in to file for unemployment insurance. That number has since jumped to 200.

“And it hasn’t let up since,” he said.  He expects it to get worse.

“At the same time [you are] seeing the number of unemployment claims increasing, you are seeing a good portion of that population falling into a little bit of a lull,” he said.

This group, he said, are skilled professionals who once worked at places like a mortgage company or financial institution and earned a salary in the $60,000 range. Workers who fall into this category, said Florentino, often put off searching  for  work during their first few months of unemployment.

However, he continued, anxiety soon sets in and then the newly unemployed professionals become more motivated.  When they begin to look for work, their searches collide with those of so many other, less skilled unemployed.  With so many job cuts nationwide over the last few months, Florentino predicts this perfect storm will hit April 1.

“They’re going to be fighting fiercely for entry-level jobs,” says Florentino. “There are going to be folks finding jobs parking cars that a year ago were in a financial institution.”

Already, the numbers show it takes longer to find any kind of work—19.8 weeks compared to 17.5 weeks a year ago.

Manuel Mauricio Ruiz lost his job as a caregiver when the elderly woman he assisted died in November.

Manuel Mauricio Ruiz lost his job as a caregiver when the elderly woman he assisted died in November.

Even those who’ve held on to their jobs have been hit—with pay freezes and reduced hours. The average workweek is now 33.3 hours. On Friday, state workers in California were on a forced furlough—the first of two a month—that will save the state money and help close the budget gap.

Patricia Urbina’s husband Javier will have to compete with highly educated, fully English speaking, skilled workers who are entering the ranks of the unemployed

“That’s where locally you get a larger impact,” said Florentino. “There’s a domino effect. It becomes a buyer’s market. People who had a chance with limited English and limited work experience will be displaced by folks who are better qualified and jockeying for lower-paying jobs.”

One of those skilled workers is Julian Gelvezon, 38, who worked as a web designer for an online retail company in San Francisco before he was laid off at the end of October. Finding himself jobless, he took a few freelance assignments, and went on a two-week vacation to Argentina. “I haven’t honestly put in that much time to do a full job search,” he said.

Now, he said, he’s beginning to worry. He came to the center to inquire about training opportunities for Dreamweaver, Flash or other computer skills that might help him find another web design job.

Although unemployment claims are up, Florentino, whose background is in sociology, also sees certain strengths in the Mission District, where many residents hold jobs he describes as “way under the table.”

“Because of the demographic profile of the Mission, [there are] folks who have some experience living in subsistence economies—the third world. They’re better psychologically equipped to deal with the current economic collapse. They have less, and they’re used to dealing with less,” he explained.

As much as Florentino has seen the Mission change over the last 30 years, he says the basic layer of subsistence, and of community members helping each other, is still there. “These folks are prepared. They’ve seen crisis.”

Still, it’s a heavily immigrant population that supports families abroad.

Manuel Mauricio Ruiz, a 45-year-old Peruvian reading bulletins announcing food service jobs, is typical of many here. He sends money to his wife and family in Peru. That was easy during the last three years he spent working as a caregiver for an elderly woman who died in November. He brought her food, did her laundry, cleaned her sores and gave her medicines.

He’s not sure when he’ll find a new job. “Maybe one month,” he guessed. “I don’t know.”

His family in Peru is feeling the crunch.

For the Urbinas, the husband-and-wife couple mentioned above, their biggest worry is holding onto their home. “We worked very hard to buy it,” said Patricia, adding that they’re 11 years into the 30-year mortgage.

“I have a lot of experience so I feel something will happen—even if I have to clean houses,” she said. “I don’t care anymore about titles or if I’m going to be working in an office. Work is work, no matter what you do.”

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