What economic recovery?
Tuesday, March 23, 2004
The U.S. economy is recovering, but Rob Anderson hasn't noticed.
Five months ago, the Tukwila resident lost his job as an electrician when funding stalled for the Seattle light rail project. Soon after, Anderson, 46, visited his union hall looking for work, only to realize he probably would wait nine months for another job.
Anderson's plight is one more story highlighting the jobless nature of the U.S. economic recovery. In February, the economy created an anemic 21,000 jobs, nowhere near the 200,000 positions that economists believe indicate a healthy job market.
The pace is even slower in Seattle, where job seekers suffered through a longer and deeper recession.
"How do you call it a recovery?" Anderson asked yesterday.
Anderson is barely staying ahead, as he pays his own $1,200 mortgage and covers a hefty chunk of his aging mother's house payment, along with his living expenses.
So Anderson helped promote an AFL-CIO-sponsored national bus tour yesterday that will hit on what is emerging as perhaps the central issue of the presidential campaign: job creation. President Bush and Democratic front-runner Sen. John Kerry already are sparring over the issue.
Within the debate is a trend of particular concern in Seattle: the growing number of technology positions moving overseas.
Policy-makers are struggling to get a handle on the depth and breadth of outsourcing, leaving workers to worry where the effort will end.
"Tomorrow, it's any job that is not nailed down," Myra Bronstein, who lost her software-testing job last year when her employer, Watchmark-Comnitel, shifted the work to India, said at a news conference yesterday. Her case gained notoriety when she recounted how she had to train her replacements as a condition of her severance package.
Bronstein will represent Washington state on the bus tour.
The list of companies allegedly sending tech jobs to India reads like a Who's Who of Seattle tech firms, including Amazon.com, Click2learn and Microsoft Corp. And those companies represent only a small fraction of the U.S. firms moving work to India and elsewhere.
The tour also will have a partisan flavor, because the AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization covering 64 unions, has endorsed Kerry.
The bus is slated to stop in Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia -- battleground states that could determine who wins the White House in November.
Michigan's tour representative, Laura Tropea, 26, moved home after graduating from law school in New York in June and failing to find a job. She lives with her mother in South Lyon, Mich., while working at a deli part time earning $8 an hour despite passing the Michigan bar exam.
Growing up in a family of autoworkers, Tropea said she and her friends were encouraged to go to college and strive for even better paying, white-collar jobs.
"It's not happening for us. It's not happening for them," she said. "If you can't get skilled trade jobs and you can't get white-collar jobs, where do you turn?"
After seeing friends suffer from unemployment, Dawn Teo, 33, of Mesa, Ariz., started a Web site last year to educate Americans about the effect of cheap foreign labor.
"There are millions of people out there who are unemployed and millions more who are underemployed," Teo said. "... Now what? There's nothing left to retrain for. No job is safe."
Representing Oklahoma is a retired Roman Catholic priest, John Vrana, 73, of Oklahoma City. After reading the biographies of participants on the bus tour, Vrana said he was touched by the difficulties they're facing.
"They're hurting. They're hurting very badly," he said.
"I think it will raise the consciousness of people. I think we read the statistics a lot, but we need to hear their stories."
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