Today, we’re adding three more video interviews to our 100 Stories. Our online total is now 72!
Valentin Figueroa, María Isabel ___ and María ___ (we’ve omitted their last names to protect their identities) are agricultural fieldworkers, all 50-plus, originally from Mexico and currently out of work. We conducted their interview in Lamont, Calif., and Érica __, the 24-year-old daughter of María, helped translate for us during the interview. When they find work, they pick grapes, tangerines, blueberries and nectarines, and package carrots, green beans, asparagus, potatoes and turnips. It is hard physical labor, and younger workers are hired before older workers. Recently they have been paid under a contract based on the amount of work they do. Under a contract, fieldworkers earn between 30 and 40 dollars daily. In contrast, when they are paid by the hour, they can earn about 70 dollars each day. Of the three, only Valentin receives unemployment payments because he is an American citizen. The three continue to survive in the United States because family members chip in to help pay for rent, food and medical care.
Mike Boyd, 57, a native Californian, decided to switch careers when a larger, out-of-state bank purchased the local bank where he worked. He returned to college to become a teacher, but his plan has been thwarted by California’s budget crisis. The state has laid off thousands of teachers, and Mike has been unable to find a full-time position in either a public or private school. Increasingly frustrated by the anonymous online job search process, Mike has only been able to work occasionally either as a substitute teacher or in temporary positions.
Sheila Cooper, 53, is also a native Californian. She is married with two sons, 23 and 19, who both have special needs. Sheila and her husband worked at northern California’s largest dental laboratory, where he was a manager and she was a technician. As a consequence of the Great Recession, people began to defer dental treatments, and the lab’s business suffered. Sheila’s husband lost his job in 2007 and remained out of work for 16 months, until he was finally rehired as a driver at a much lower hourly wage. Sheila was laid off last June. Their home is in foreclosure, and they are currently negotiating, hoping to be able to remain in it. They are scraping by with the help of family members. Sheila is seeking a clerical job and upgrading her computer skills, but California’s high rate of unemployment makes finding work daunting.