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Thousands search for jobs at South LA fair

August 31, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Thousands of unemployed people were up before the doors even opened at a job fair in South Los Angeles on Wednesday, hoping to get back to work as soon as possible.

Before the sun was up, job seekers were up, hoping the job fair will give them the break they need.

More than 180 businesses set up booths in the parking lot of the Crenshaw Christian Center. A wide spectrum of employers was present, from New York Life Insurance to the Coffee Bean to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The unemployment rate in the African-American community is around 16 percent compared to 9 percent for the rest of the country. Many people at the event said they can find part-time work here and there, but what they really want is a full-time job.

"It's been rough, like the economy is down, and I've been out for the last two years," said job seeker Derrick Ross. "It's a struggle right now. It's been a struggle."

Wendy Shinaberry was looking for caregivers, one of the few parts of the economy that is growing.

"I'm doing some hiring here today, just really hoping to look for some really good candidates, compassionate candidates for this type of business," Shinaberry said.

One of the biggest complaints from job seekers is that so many employers are looking for experience - something they can only get if someone gives them a chance.

"It's been very frustrating. Everywhere I go, they keep telling me, 'You have to have a year experience,' but if you don't hire me, how am I going to get the experience?" said another job seeker Joselyn Nkansah.

The fair was the fifth one put together by the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). No community has been hit harder by the recession than African-Americans.

The fair kicked off with a prelude event Tuesday night at the Crenshaw Christian Center, where many from the African-American community met with congressional representatives to discuss their concerns.

"The national unemployment rate for the African-American community is 16 percent," Congresswoman Maxine Waters said. "For the Latino community, it's 11.2 percent. In many of these areas, not too far from where we're standing, it's 30, 40, 45 percent

The CBC is trying to help by organizing job fairs across the country. Waters also wants to help by putting more pressure on the big banks to help with mortgages.

"If they don't come up with loan modifications and keep people in their homes that they've worked so hard for, we're going to tax them out of business," Waters said.

That is the cry Waters with other black leaders have been taking nationwide. They said that conservatives are blocking them on Capitol Hill, so the caucus must reboot and mobilize grass roots.

The call comes as President Barack Obama plans to deliver a major address on jobs next week. Points may include tax benefits for companies hiring the unemployed, targeted assistance for the long term unemployed and infrastructure investment.

Community leaders said job fairs like the one on Wednesday are just the beginning. They are calling on the president and lawmakers for some kind of jobs plan.

"We need a direct jobs bill to put America back to work," said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, community activist.

While leaders call for bold action, those looking for work keep smiling and shaking hands and hope this time they're the ones who get the job.

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