Big Boom Moves East

— At the Employment Development Department's Metro Career Center on Aero Drive, people looking for work wander around the lobby. Some are on the provided telephones, calling job leads. Others look at the jobs listed on clipboards attached to the wall. More still are in the computer room, taking advantage of training to expand their marketability. There is no typical profile of a jobless person, but there seem to be two typical and opposite attitudes: Determination and discouragement.

Among the determined is Gary Lefear. At 32, Lefear has been jobless for nearly six months. "I worked for Circuit City for ten years, and during that time, I did numerous different jobs. My last job was at their service center in Miramar, where we repaired major appliances and small merchandise. I was a service driver for them, and with all the cutbacks and everything and losing contracts, we pretty much went belly up. They closed down the service center and eliminated my job. I started at $7.25 an hour, and my pay at the end was $11.71."

The arrival of Lefear's pink slip came after a long period of anticipation. "The word was out for a good year. There were rumors floating around that something bad was going to happen, and you get to that point where you know it's going to happen, so you just accept it and work with it. I heard about it from fellow workers and different stores. Management would say they didn't know anything about it, but corporate finally sent us a letter stating that our positions would be eliminated. That was about four months' notice, officially, but the rumors were there longer. I pretty much prepared myself for it when the rumors started, so when corporate finally told us, it didn't affect me much. I had a plan of action, but I worked to the end, doing what I was paid to do."

Lefear speaks with earnestness about his plan. "I really have no training, and that's why I'm here today. I want to get some training under my belt and get a good-paying job out there that will last. I want to move on and not let this get me down."

Moving on at the career center comes in stages. "The first stage at the center is an orientation meeting, where they explain the whole process. The second stage is aptitude testing, and the third stage is the interview, where they tell me if I qualify for some training and what kind of training I qualify for. I'm in the third stage right now, the final stage before training here. I hope to get some heavy-equipment training and a Class-A driver's license. My meeting is scheduled for next Monday."

Fortunately, Lefear is not the sole supporter of his family. "I just got married a month ago, so it's just me and my wife. She works at a regional center as a social worker. She just transferred in after working for the Association for Retarded Citizens [ARC] of San Diego. She has some savings, about $3000, so since we've been married I can say that I do too, but our pennies are pretty tight right now. I'm on my last bit of unemployment benefits now. I get $450 every two weeks, and it was supposed to run for six months. Our monthly expenses are about $800 or $900. We have bills but no debts. We're not living high on the hog, but we have a good life. As long as my wife has her job, I'll be around, but I don't want to put it all on her. I'm putting in applications right now, and if the educational development department can't help me get some training, I'll go back to driving." He and his wife live in City Heights.

"I was jobless before, when I was 17, for about eight months. I managed on strings! I was moving out of my mom's house, and I lost my job on the way out. But I didn't go back home. The journey was one way! I did whatever I could. I cut grass, washed cars. At 17, my pride wasn't that high."

Lefear's preference is to work with big machinery. "I want to do heavy equipment. Graders, bulldozers, Caterpillars, or else long-haul trucking. Since I've been out there turning in applications, I've been thinking, 'Hey, I'm 32 years old, and maybe these people don't think I can get this job done. The older I get, the more conscious I get about that. But I never think about racism. The color of my skin has nothing to do with it. The only obstacle is my lack of training. That's my big issue."

Lefear is so focused on his future that he is surprised that he is not asked how much he hopes to make. "I look forward to making anything over $15 per hour. If I can make more than $40 or $45, I'll be very happy!

"I talked with my wife before I was laid off, letting her know what my plans are and what my goals are. We hope to buy a house someday, but not in San Diego. We're looking at Texas. What I can get in Texas versus what they pay in San Diego -- you can't even describe the difference. I read in the Tribune the other day about the 'sunshine tax,' and I can tell you, there's sunshine everywhere. Texas and Louisiana have sunshine too. California's great for beach, weather, and atmosphere, but money? Hey, the big boom was West, and now it's East."

Steve Moseman, 30, moved to San Diego from Upstate New York two years ago. He forces a smile, but his voice betrays discouragement. "I worked as a salesman at a retail furniture store for six months. I missed the Memorial Day weekend sale because I was sick, so they let me go over the phone."

Moseman won't divulge the name of his former employer, but makes no attempt to hide his disgust with retail sales. "I've focused all my attention on sales, and that's the field I want to get out of. I want something more creative. The pay was crappy. It was all commission, and you got a draw against the commission. Unfortunately, they only paid on the delivery of merchandise, and since most of the merchandise was imported from Italy, it would take from six to ten months to get in. So you don't get paid for basically a year. Most of it was special-order sales, and my base draw was $2000 a month."

"There's a lot of things I don't like about sales. I don't like relying on other people to get my income, and I don't like the hours. I had to work every weekend -- I mean every weekend. I'm a social person, and I didn't have any social life at all. It affected me."

Unlike Lefear, Moseman's loss of a job came with shorter notice and a greater sense of devastation. "I think I felt how everyone else feels when they are let go. Unworthy, depressed, and all the other good stuff."

Lefear lives alone and has no savings. "My monthly bills are about $1000, and I owe about $10,000 on student loans. Unemployment currently pays me about $500 a month. That'll probably end in another month or two. It's been about three months that I've been getting them. I don't like not having any money. If I can go back to training, my benefits will continue, but if that doesn't happen, I can't last that long. It takes money to live." Moseman has been jobless before, with the longest stretch lasting four months.

"I'm here at the career center so I can go back for training. I'm researching new careers right now. I took a skills-assessment test last week and got the results yesterday. They said that I should get into something creative, from anything like chef to hair stylist to radiological technician to paramedic."

In spite of his disappointment, Moseman tries to keep a positive outlook. "Being unemployed is not something I would choose, but everything happens for a reason. There's a reason why this happened: so I could change my career and be a little happier than I was then."

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