The Faces Behind the Numbers

Monday, October 29 -- Four days from now - as it does the first Friday of every month - the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics will release national employment data for the month just concluded. Four days later, the nation will elect its next President.

These two events are connected, thematically at least. This is not to suggest that any voters still on the fence will review the most recent national employment data and punch their ballot accordingly. But jobs and the state of the economy was the hot button issue before Barack Obama took office and that is still very much the case in 2012.

The debate over the state of the economy is, for now at least, unwinnable. Is the glass half full or half empty? The numbers appear to be trending upward. In September, the unemployment rate fell below 8% for the first time since January 2009. We added 873,000 new jobs and the civilian labor force rose by 418,000 – encouraging news, certainly, for President Obama as he entered the home stretch of the presidential campaign.

More from the BLS (read the entire report here): Employment increased in health care, transportation and warehousing.

The BLS data wasn’t all sunny. The number of involuntary part-time workers who were working part time due to having their hours cut back or because they could not find full-time work, rose from 8.0 million in August to 8.6 million in September. As of September, the nation still has 2.5 million “marginally attached” to the labor force. These are people who want and are available for work, but were not counted among the unemployed because they hadn’t looked for work in the four weeks before the survey was conducted. Among this total, you had 802,000 “discouraged workers” who are no longer looking for employment.

What do all these numbers mean?

To the Obama and Romney campaigns, spin fodder possibly until the last minute of the campaign.

To JVS, very little.

At our WorkSource Centers, we see and service all categories of workers: college graduates, mid-career professionals, veterans, people with disabilities and seniors. The people who come through our doors are “marginally attached” and “discouraged” (as what person who wants to work , but can’t, wouldn’t be?).

We do our best to give all of our clients what will be most helpful to them, whether it’s training, career counseling, a new resume or a promising job lead. Perhaps most importantly, we try to give them hope which is a luxury that many among the long-term unemployed feel they will never get and, in some cases, don’t deserve. No matter what the numbers say or who is elected, there will always be long-term unemployed in need of help; they will always find JVS and JVS will always do our best to assist them.

Periodically we even receive an e-mail or a phone call from clients who no longer need our services. They get in touch to say thanks and to report progress, to show us that they have progressed out of whatever category it was that brought them to JVS in the first place.

Mid October, we received a visit from Felicia who graduated HealthWorks™, JVS’ training program which prepares people for careers as Certified Nurse Assistants (CNA). Felicia landed a job at a facility in Culver City and quickly attracted the notice of her director of nursing who recommended her for a position that required home health certification. Once she got this additional training, she would slot into a new position that would double her salary.

“It’s so satisfying to know that I can take care of myself. I can pay my bills now,” Felicia told us. “I can give my son lunch money. It’s a really big deal. Just coming back into the building today, it was so overwhelming just to think about what you guys are doing in strangers’ lives.”

Listening to clients like Felicia - who are names and not numbers - makes one want to vote.

It also makes it that much easier to get up, go to work and – if you’re very lucky – help people find ways to help themselves.