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Idle Construction Workers See Foundation for Hope in Stimulus Bill

Pedro Jimenez makes sure a wall is plumb at a residential construction site in Southeast Washington. Other local building projects have been delayed.
Pedro Jimenez makes sure a wall is plumb at a residential construction site in Southeast Washington. Other local building projects have been delayed. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
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By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 30, 2009

Santiago Castro, his dark brown coat pulled close around him to ward off the pre-dawn chill yesterday, leaned against the brick building of Iron Workers Local 201 on Rhode Island Avenue NE, waiting for the doors to open.

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Castro, 40, has been coming to look for work nearly every day since he was laid off from his construction job in early November.

December?

"Nada."

The first few weeks of this year?

"Nada."

He's barely cobbled together enough money to pay the $2,000-a-month mortgage on his Oxon Hill home with his wife's part-time salary from Dunkin' Donuts and his unemployment check. The father of three small children worries he won't be able to pay his mortgage this month. He is eating through his savings account, which has dwindled to $700.

"I'm frustrated there's no work," he said in Spanish. "I'm becoming very, very broke. But I'm hoping Obama's plan works."

Five fellow ironworkers also lingered inside the wood-paneled union hall, comparing bank balances and swapping phone numbers of social agencies and food banks.

The House passed an $819 billion stimulus package on Wednesday, and construction workers, contractors and union officials across the country are hoping that the billions of dollars set aside in the bill for building roads, bridges, schools and more will create jobs.

The plan comes as the construction industry has had its worst job losses in more than two decades, with 900,000 workers across the country unemployed, including nearly 25,000 in the District, Maryland and Virginia. And it could get worse, according to the Associated General Contractors of America. The trade group, which has lobbied the Obama administration and Congress with 10,000 letters from its members, said most of its 33,000 member companies expect to lay off more workers. Its economist said the number of unemployed construction workers could grow to more than 2 million if the economy does not improve.

The group says the stimulus plan, which sets aside about $150 billion for construction projects, would create or save more than 660,000 construction jobs. About 13,300 could be in the D.C. region.


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