For two Nevada delegates, jobless reality looms over ‘a happy break’


Nevada delegates Bob and Linda Cavazos are in Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention. (Linda Davidson/THE WASHINGTON POST)
September 6, 2012

They stood together on the floor of the Democratic National Convention this week, husband and wife, trying to lose themselves in the euphoria. Bob and Linda Cavazos had traveled here together as delegates from Nevada, stashing away money from his $396 weekly unemployment checks so they could afford a trip that he called “a happy break from reality.”

Bob, 59, wore a black suit decorated by an American flag pin and took pictures of the stage with his digital camera. Linda, 61, listened to another speech from another state-level politician about economics and job creation and then reached for his hand.

“What are you thinking about?” she asked.

“I’m just trying not to dwell on what happens when this is over,” he said, referring to the transition ahead.

On Thursday, he was a convention delegate from a swing state, his cocktails paid for by super PACs and his time sought by governors, senators and the secretary of labor.

On Friday, he would fly back to a state with a 12.5 percent unemployment rate and continue looking for a job.

When President Obama finished his speech to conclude two weeks of political conventions, rhetoric gave way to reality, and party platforms gave way to the problems of everyday life. The Bureau of Labor Statistics was scheduled to release its monthly jobs report Friday morning — one more reminder that the final two months of this election will be determined not only by issues in abstract but also by people like the Cavazoses, who feel their acute effects.

The “unemployment issue” they heard talked about so often in Charlotte was also the résuméBob has been sending out since he lost his job in March, trimming down 39 years of experience in management and telecommunications to a single page and sending copies to job listings he found on the Internet, even if it felt like “addressing mail to a black hole.”

The foreclosure issue was what ruined their block in Henderson, Nev., where many of the single-story homes had been vacated and bought by investors from California. Now the neighborhood where they had lived with children and grandchildren since 1993 was filled with renters and transients. There had been two break-ins at their house, leaving police to measure a size-11 footprint stamped in their steel front door.

The health-care fight was in fact their fight, because they disagreed about what to do for insurance. They lost their coverage when a new company took over Bob’s data center in January and fired him and the other managers with 60 days’ notice. Linda wanted them to buy insurance out of pocket. “You’re no spring chicken,” she often told him. But Bob was in charge of keeping their detailed household budget, and they were already bleeding $1,100 a month from their diminished savings. “We can’t afford to spend any more,” he said.

An answer in activism

They had decided to become delegates — Linda elected and Bob as an alternate — because they believed politics could provide solutions to some of their problems. Linda was a devoted Obama for America volunteer, and in 2008 her enthusiasm had won over Bob, a disenchanted Republican who twice voted for George W. Bush. But only recently had Bob started volunteering his own time for Obama, helping to create data systems for OFA, railing against the 1 percent and buying Democratic paraphernalia.

He liked the president’s policies and ideals. Even more, he liked having a cause.

“I do better when I fill my time,” he said.

Seemingly every minute was filled during their trip, when politicians from around the country competed to appear at their delegation’s group functions. On the last day of the convention, Bob and Linda awoke at 7 a.m. in the downtown Hilton for a Nevada delegation breakfast sponsored by a bank in San Francisco. “You can live here on free buffets and appetizers,” Bob said. They filled their plates and then stood to applaud for the latest succession of “distinguished guest speakers,” who told them how much Democrats needed to win their state.

“You’ve got some friends in the Department of Labor,” said Hilda Solis, the agency’s head, as Bob leaned to take her picture.

“We are trying to create jobs in Nevada,” said Pete Rouse, a senior adviser to Obama, as Linda stood to applaud.

“You bet we’re better off!” said Donna Brazile, a Democratic adviser.

“Now is the time to push on and shape the future,” said Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign director.

Breakfast ended, and Bob and Linda went to the lobby to discuss their own future back in suburban Las Vegas. They had been married for 19 years thanks to a blind date, and the first 18 had adhered to a familiar and happy routine. Bob made enough money to support the family by rising into management; Linda volunteered much of her time as a family-trauma counselor. Bob woke up early and made the coffee; Linda got up later and had the house to herself. They saved money in a 401(k), took in a grandson whom they hoped to send to a four-year college and planned occasional vacations to the wine country of California.

The tough search for work

Now the savings were liquidated, the vacations didn’t fit into the monthly budget and their grandson was enrolling at community college nearby to save money. Their mornings had turned unpredictable. Bob still made the coffee. He still parted his hair and trimmed his salt-and-pepper mustache. Then he worked to fill his days with anything useful: rewriting his cover letters; dismantling and rebuilding a car engine; taking an online tutorial to design a Web site for Linda’s counseling business so she could make more money.

He had been working since he turned 11 — as a paperboy, a dishwasher, an enlistee in the Air Force, a mechanic and a technician. He had sent out dozens of applications for jobs in everything from high technology to facilities management, but there were few places with so many job seekers as greater Las Vegas, with an unemployment rate nearly four percentage points above the national average.

So far, despite his years of experience and his glowing testimonials from past bosses and employees, Bob’s search had elicited only a few callbacks and one phone interview.

‘Something will come up’

Linda often reminded him to “maintain confidence and dignity,” and she thought it best to press him into conversations even when he didn’t always feel like talking. He didn’t like it when she used her counseling techniques on him. “Stop working on me, damn it,” he said. But sometimes she couldn’t help herself. She was his biggest defender, but she was also always “reframing” him by turning the negatives of unemployment into hopeful positives.

“We have more time together this way. I like that,” she said now, in the lobby of the Hilton.

“I like that, too,” he said.

“It’s only the mornings when I worry about you,” she said. “I miss the routine. I miss seeing your shirts ready for the dry cleaning.”

“Well, yeah, that’s true . . . ,” he said, his voice trailing off.

“Something will come up when we get back,” she said.

“Yes,” he said. “Something will come up.”

They stood from their seats in the lobby. They had another cocktail reception soon and then an evening VIP party. Obama was scheduled to speak in a few hours, and they wanted to be back on the convention floor in time to see him. “Let’s go get ready,” Bob told Linda.

They had one final night to hear about the complicated issues facing the country, and then they would go back to the much more complicated task of living them.

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