On the streets of Ward 8 in the District about one in five adults are out of work. Some of these unemployed workers lack substantive job skills or are recently released from prison. Many others are veteran laborers with extensive work histories. They are electricians, carpenters, plumbers and brick masons and are accustomed to long hours and back-breaking work. And they want their jobs back. Below is one of four skilled laborers east of the Anacostia River who talked to us about how they have been affected by the poor economy.
James Tolbert, 36
I’m a laborer. That’s how I started out back in the day...basically just with on the job training. Go to a site and learn and it was cool. Then I moved up and became a flagger. Then I got certified in Bobcat moving. Then I was a carpentry assistant.
But it’s been a long time since I’ve worked steady...three years now. It’s been a struggle, I don’t have kids but I try to help my mother, so its hard. She needs my help. But I don’t look at the cup and see it being half empty. I look at it as half full. Because I’m one of those people that has some certifications.
I have no problems passing the drug tests, passing the urine tests. Everybody who says those of us in Ward 8 don’t have any skills. How much experience do you need to sweep a broom? Come on. Sure, there are some guys that can’t pass the drug test. Can’t pass the urine test.
But that’s not everybody. That’s not me. But what if you can pass the background check, the urine sample and do have the work experience. Like me? Even we don’t get a job, even though we can pass all the tests. Where does it state that I don’t have the experience? I have experience. I’m right here in front of your face. Come on. Give the people out here in these neighborhoods a chance. Don’t just leave us out here. Don’t leave us hanging. It frustrating that I can’t take care of my family.