Faces of the recession in San Francisco

I thought it would be illuminating to get past the abstract brutality of the reported figures, to match some real faces with the numbers. A short visit today to the California Employment Development Department on Turk Street provided about 40 of them.

“Unemployed Men sitting on the sunny side of the San Francisco Public Library” by Dorothea Lange. Feb. 1937. Courtesy of the San Francisco History Center.

“Unemployed Men sitting on the sunny side of the San Francisco Public Library” by Dorothea Lange. Feb. 1937. Courtesy of the San Francisco History Center.

At a “job focus workshop” for people collecting unemployment insurance, the EDD instructor directed the conversation around two crowded conference room tables. People of all kinds listed their occupational fields and spoke briefly about how their job search was going. Not at all well. A few remained upbeat, but the discouragement and resignation among many was palpable. To some degree it was a matter of the diverse Bay Area economy, but the breadth of the carnage was still astonishing. No age or job sector was immune.

There were as many mid to senior-level professionals as working class folks, if not more of them. David, a lawyer for an energy company. Linda, a commercial real estate broker. Michael, a manager from a biotech firm. Also present: several people in marketing and sales, two people in the printing business, two bank tellers, an accountant, a travel agent, a telecom maintenance worker, a warehouse manager, an ice cream delivery truck driver, a construction worker, a creative director for an advertising agency, an environmental consultant, a mental health worker and a professional photographer.

The health care industry is said to be one of the few bright spots right now in terms of prospects. But here, too, was Olga, a soft-spoken middle-age woman, recently laid off from her job at a nursing home. Next she tried to pick up work as a home-care provider, but that didn’t last either. Apparently people losing their jobs are also giving up on health insurance for themselves and their families.

“This week I’ve been going door to door at offices downtown, asking to see if they need a receptionist,” Olga said. “Nothing yet.”

Someone across the room let out a small sigh.

Recently, a friend of mine who works downtown noted that the buses headed there during morning rush hour have been noticeably less full. Some popular lunch spots have started to look sparse. On a recent afternoon she was in a sandwich shop when a Latino man walked in, approached the counter and simply began pleading in a broken accent.

“I need a job,” he said, “I need a job.”

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8 comments so far

  1. Arne on

    My grandma used to run meetings like that at ED. she wrote several books about job searching for youth. I think she would be very sad if she were still here.

  2. markfollman on

    The nice woman running the meeting said she’d been working at EDD for 41 years. Kind of amazing. She said she’d been there through four recessions, and that ‘the good news’ is that we always get out of them. But she said this one was the worst she’d seen…

  3. Eilene on

    What a picture of the situation, eh? That last quote says it all. I posted a link on my Facebook page, well done. — Eilene

  4. julie on

    This is a real eye opener. Thank you for sharing your observations.

  5. Sasha on

    Wow–it has not been clear to me the extent to which San Francisco has been hit by the recession in terms of job loss. I will to find the abstract figures now–

  6. markfollman on

    Hey Sasha— also mentioned at the EDD meeting: apparently the Bay Area tends to lag in terms of entering a downturn, and lags getting back out. I’d be curious to know the figures if you dig them up…

  7. […] The last bit has nothing to do with money.   Rather, it seems to me that my children may very well grow up with the shadow of economic instability, recession, a legacy of greed and mismanagement that destablized what was, not so very many years ago, a stable and prosperous economy.  Should it take 10 years or so to pull out of this mess, they may live a good chunk of their childhood, into adolescence with the specter of a trembling economy.  They’ll see boarded up businesses, too many houses for sale, long lines of unemployed. […]

  8. David Benfell on

    Sasha and Mark,

    You can find unemployment breakdowns by county on the EDD web site at http://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/?PAGEID=1006 . They’re not as detailed as the Bureau of Labor Statistics data and I’m assuming they’re using the same flawed methodologies.


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