Squabbles In Washington Frustrate Job Seekers Since September, President Obama and Republicans in Congress have been fighting over jobs. With so much political focus on jobs, NPR checks back in with the people we've been following as part of our Road Back to Work series. They started the year unemployed and searching for work.
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Squabbles In Washington Frustrate Job Seekers

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Squabbles In Washington Frustrate Job Seekers

Squabbles In Washington Frustrate Job Seekers

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

First this hour, we have two reports on the economic challenges we face these days. In a moment, we'll hear the macro view from Europe, but first, some individual stories. While the White House and Congress continue to wrangle over jobs legislation, we're going to check back in with a group of people we've been following this year in St. Louis. They started the year without jobs, searching for work.

NPR's Tamara Keith reports now on how their own situations are affecting their views of politics.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Being unemployed for more than two years changed the way Ray Meyer looks at politics. He's always leaned Republican and used to have little sympathy for those who were receiving unemployment benefits.

RAY MEYER: I used to think, you know, all these people that were unemployed, a lot of them could find jobs if they just wanted to. I don't know that that's the truth anymore. I don't believe it. But it's definitely changed my opinion.

KEITH: Now, Meyer says he's more sympathetic to those in need and more cynical about what's happening in Washington.

MEYER: Okay, recorder's on. Doing a daily log for the recording.

KEITH: Meyer and all of the people we're following this year are recording themselves and doing regular updates.

MEYER: The temporary job assignment that I'm on now looks like it's going to be ending just before Thanksgiving. And I'm not for sure what I'll have after that.

KEITH: Meyer worked his entire career in banking before losing his job in 2008. He's been rolling from one temp assignment to the next since February. For a time, all six people we've been following were employed. Now it's down to four. Meyer's recordings often come back to the same theme.

MEYER: With my experience, I just, I still don't understand why I'm not being picked up quickly by a permanent job someplace. Even if I can go someplace and be a teller, you know, and then work myself back up into their ranks.

KEITH: And it's through this frustration about the job market that Meyer now looks at Congress and the president.

MEYER: They don't understand what we're going through at their constituents' level. They have no idea what we're going through.

KEITH: He thinks the president's jobs plan is nothing more than a Band-Aid for a gaping wound. But he's upset that Congress doesn't seem to be able to do anything without fighting.

MEYER: Both parties need to take and give a little bit. And then we can get back on the right track, I think. But it just seems like everybody is so mad at everybody all the time and so afraid that somebody is going to get something that they want or don't want to have happen or they want to get credit for and somebody else is going to get credit for. It's just silly to me.

KEITH: A recent poll found approval for Congress at just 9 percent. Talk to Brian Barfield for a few minutes and it's easy to understand why.

BRIAN BARFIELD: There's no such thing as a politician that knows how to bring jobs back. They're so worried about how they look politically that all the Republicans say, well, we got to beat the Democrats. We got to be the winner. And then the Democrats are saying, well, we got to be the winner. And America's losing.

KEITH: Barfield was in the auto industry until the plant he was working in shut down. He was unemployed off and on for three years. Over the summer, he had a seasonal position driving a forklift at a major St. Louis company, but he didn't get hired on permanently. Now he's working the occasional weekend shift and looking for full-time work.

BARFIELD: We've got so many needs in this country. Why can't they put partisanship aside and start fixing things?

KEITH: Barfield is a Republican. And he's no fan of President Obama or the idea of spending more money on economic stimulus. He's worried about the deficit. But Barfield makes an exception for extending unemployment benefits.

BARFIELD: You got to give people a way to actually live. I'm not saying get rich. I'm just saying make it day to day. No one's getting rich off of this. But at least you can afford to feed your family.

KEITH: Thus far, Congress has done nothing about continuing extended unemployment benefits past the end of this year. Annica Trotter is working now as a receptionist for a security company, but she relied on unemployment benefits earlier this year. She says she saw an interesting quote on the Internet that said, let's give the politicians a minimum wage salary and then we'll start to see change.

ANNICA TROTTER: I don't think that will ever happen, but, you know, I got a kick out of it because they don't understand what it's like to make $8.50, $9.50, $10.50, you know, that little, compared to what they make now and have to live on that.

KEITH: Trotter is a Democrat. But she says she doesn't actually pay much attention to the daily political back and forth - the blame game, as she calls it. Trotter says she's too busy trying to pay her bills and feed her two kids. Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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