RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Occupy Wall Street protesters continue to camp out in New York City and in other financial districts around the country. Some critics say the groups that have converged on those cities lack focus. It is true the demonstrations have attracted all kinds of people and all kinds of causes, but many participants share at least one common frustration: they can't find work. NPR's Chris Arnold waded into the crowd in downtown Boston this week.
CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: The U.S. hasn't had unemployment this high for this long since all the way back during the Great Depression. That's weighing heavily on a lot of Americans. And it also seems to be a key part of all this frustration and anger that's being directed at Wall Street and the big banks. For many people it's not so much about high finance as it is about just finding a job.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR)
ARNOLD: Let's just take a couple of steps away from the guitar. So can I get your name and what you do and what brought you down here?
BOB NORKUS: Good job, Bob. Last name is N-O-R-K-U-S. I'm unemployed. And I'm down here basically because I'm unemployed.
ARNOLD: Walking around, it doesn't take long to figure out that many people here have the same problem - people like Fernando Olivera and others.
FERNANDO OLIVERA: Right now I'm unemployed. I was laid off because of education cuts.
JASON CHAMBERS: My name is Jason Chambers. I'm a third generation union iron worker. Construction industry has been stagnant. You know, the past four or five years we've been under-employed or unemployed, and right now I'm unemployed, so full-time occupier.
ARNOLD: Hey, do you have a couple minutes to talk?
LISA DOHERTY: My name's Lisa Doherty. What do I do? I'm unemployed.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
ARNOLD: And is that - I imagine one of the things that brought you out today?
(SOUNDBITE OF HONKING HORNS AND CHEERING)
DOHERTY: Well, yeah, well, that's one of the things. I mean there's several.
ARNOLD: Lisa Doherty is standing on the edge of the road holding up a sign towards the oncoming traffic. It says people before profits. Doherty lost her job as a loan processor three years ago and she's frustrated. She feels like the financial system is somehow stacked against her, even though she used to work in the mortgage business.
DOHERTY: I can't get a job at a bank as a mortgage loan processor because I have bad credit and so they won't give me a job, yeah. But...
ARNOLD: Oh, because they screen you for that.
DOHERTY: Yeah, but I have bad credit because I don't have a job.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
DOHERTY: So it's like...
ARNOLD: You can't win.
DOHERTY: It's six of one half a dozen of the other.
ARNOLD: Doherty says she doesn't know what to do. She's living with family because she can't afford her own place. And she's been turned down for retail jobs, everything she applies for. She says it's discouraging.
DOHERTY: Things need to change, you know. I just want a better world.
ARNOLD: You sound tired kind of as you say that.
DOHERTY: Well, yeah, I am. I'm tired. I've been looking for a job for three years, you know? Yeah, I'm tired. I'm tired of being unemployed. My kids are all struggling. I have five kids, they're all struggling. I don't want my grandchildren to struggle, you know? So that's why I'm out here.
ARNOLD: Not everybody out here is unemployed. Nor do they have such a concrete message. There are college students or recent graduates. One has a sign with the drawing of a smiling pig that says four legs good, two legs bad. Another is an organizer, Nadeem Mazen. He's upset about the banks and regulators. And he apparently doesn't like Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's stage presence or speech writing.
NADEEM MAZEN: Ben Bernanke...
CROWD: Ben Bernanke...
MAZEN: Spoke at my commencement in 2006...
CROWD: Spoke at my commencement in 2006...
MAZEN: His speech was long...
CROWD: His speech was long...
MAZEN: ...poorly formulated...
CROWD: ...poorly formulated...
MAZEN: ...and irrelevant.
CROWD: ...and irrelevant.
MAZEN: The person in front of me...
CROWD: The person in front of me...
MAZEN: ...and the person behind me...
CROWD: ...and the person behind me...
MAZEN: ...fell asleep in their chairs.
CROWD: ...fell asleep in their chairs.
ARNOLD: But a lot of the people here have more to worry about than the quality of an MIT commencement speech.
CHAMBERS: I know thousands of guys like me that just want to go to work and be able to pay their mortgage before Bank of America forecloses on them.
ARNOLD: That was Jason Chambers again. He's the unemployed iron worker. He wants Congress to pass a jobs bill and to put guys like him back to work.
CHAMBERS: In Boston, the Washington Street Bridge, it's built with buck rivets. We haven't used those since 1935 - just to give you an idea of how old that bridge is and badly in need of repair. Like a lot of our infrastructure, it just needs to be replaced and it can put, you know, provide jobs, you know?
ARNOLD: So the message from the protests might be at times be confusing. But for a lot of people here, it's desperation over being unable to find a job that's getting them out in the streets. Chris Arnold, NPR News, Boston.