By NICHOLAS KUSNETZ
Since coming to this country 14 years ago, Alexis Serrato, a legal resident, always worked consistently as a painter. The Colombian immigrant was able to support his family, which grew to seven, while his wife pitched in by taking care of their children. His earnings meant she only worked a few days a month cleaning houses or babysitting.
Then suddenly in September, one company he worked with for two years said there were no more jobs. A second one that he had been with for five years also stopped calling. In January and February he worked only four days, and one of those jobs never paid him. With the help of food stamps and savings, he’s just barely getting by. Last month, for the first time ever, he said, he couldn’t come up with $400 for rent at his Pacifica home.
“I just can’t pay it,” he said. “There’s no more jobs.”
While it’s been a difficult climate for anyone in construction, the latest casualties of the economy appear to be men and women like Serrato—legal, steady workers who are facing their first major downturn, according to Juana Pascubello, who runs a twice-weekly orientation session for drop-in services at Arriba Juntos on Valencia Street.
Up until the economic downturn, she said, her clients were generally undocumented workers looking for menial labor.
“Now, it’s people that were making $35,000 to $40,000 a year,” Pascubello said.
Serrato was one of more than 80 people on Tuesday morning who passed through to pick up a sheet listing just eight jobs.
As unemployment began to tick upwards this fall and spiked to 7.5 percent in January, the center started to see about 40 percent more people each day, Pascubello said. The growth has come from people like Serrato—legal residents who were used to steady employment.
Whereas before any able body would suffice, employers nowadays are demanding references, resumes and experience.
“Everywhere you look it’s email and resume, so that’s becoming a barrier,” said Alex Rodriguez, who volunteers at the center and was helping Serrato and three of his former colleagues with applications. “Joe Blow doesn’t cut it anymore.”
The San Francisco metropolitan unemployment rate of 7.5 percent is nearly three quarters higher than it was one year ago. California’s unemployment rate has passed 10 percent.
On a Tuesday morning, the reality of those statistics was clear as some 30 men and women filed into a windowless, wood-paneled room for the orientation, which was conducted in Spanish. On the wall was a poster of Cesar Chavez and a series of inspirational posters with the words “attitude,” “focus,” and “persistence.”
The people in the room looked as if they were in a constant state of apprehension, their eyebrows seemingly suspended high on their foreheads. And if joblessness wasn’t enough to worry about, the meeting quickly focused on a new concern.
One of the attendees, Edwin Tenorio, who had worked in construction for eight years, reported he had been the victim of a scam in which he lost $1,200. Tenorio has been without work for four months and ended up taking an offer from a job posting that ended up being too good to be true.
“I’ll do whatever kind of work because I need a job,” said the 27-year-old, who after working consistently for eight years has been without work for four months. The experience has made him weary of pursuing job postings from strangers—one of the few options left. “I just can’t trust this kind of thing anymore.”
In addition to drop-in services, Arriba Juntos offers training programs and classes in English and computers. The 44-year-old nonprofit works to develop relationships with employers, such as cleaning agencies, but the number of jobs these companies are offering has greatly decreased, Pascubello said.
To make up for this loss, she is relying more on Craigslist postings. Pascubello will email or call the contact on the posting before passing it on to her clients. The one that scammed Tenorio listed an international number, she said, so she communicated with him only by email. She said it sounded legitimate, though she acknowledges now that she could have been more careful.
On this Tuesday, six of the eight listed jobs were from Craigslist, leaving people like Serrato few choices. He had come to the center ready to work, carrying a tool bag with the name of his former employer sewed on its side.
It was his second week at Arriba Juntos. He said he has also gone to the One Stop Mission Hiring Hall center. But this morning, after working on a resume with Rodriguez and his former colleagues, he left with his wife and daughter, but still no job.