Where Are the Jobs? Scenes from California's Job Club
As we stood in line at a Burger King in Sacramento, Calif., Joe Sisco gave me a nudge. "Look at the age of the people who are here right now," he said and cocked his chin toward the three women behind the counter, each several decades past the age when manning the deep fryer might seem like a good career move. "That's the economy, right here."
At 55, Sisco was no spring chicken himself. And having been out of work for a couple of years, he'd had plenty of opportunity to study the job market. I had met him at the welfare offices down the street, where he was attending Job Club, a mandatory seven-week program that aims to move welfare recipients off the dole and into a job. Sisco stood out as a charming, wisecracking presence in the group, impeccably dressed in a fedora, polo shirt and creased pants, a thin stripe of silver beard bisecting his chin. He'd led a varied and complicated life that included stints in the military and in prison and for a time he'd lived in a local park. These days, though, he just wanted a steady job and a working washing machine. He was raising his 3-year-old daughter by himself after saving her from foster care when her mother, a prostitute, lost custody. For the moment, he was surviving on a monthly cash stipend of $490 plus food stamps, a sum that didn't even cover his rent. Job Club was supposed to give him a fresh start. He'd gotten a new resume out of the program, and learned how to parry the awkward questions that come up in job interviews. Now several weeks in, he had just one question.