In Philadelphia, a widowed mother of 4 hopes Obama will deliver good news on jobs

Obama cited Sputnik and the Space Race as moments that inspired American innovation in the State of the Union.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 25, 2011; 11:15 PM

PHILADELPHIA - They once called Germantown Avenue the Great Road, which seemed like a bad joke as Ethel Cherry rolled past the winding corridor's ramshackle stores and vacant buildings hours before President Obama's State of the Union address.

Like many people in her neighborhood, Cherry, 44, has been out work for more than a year. She is barely getting by with $250 a week in unemployment benefits, food stamps and the generosity of her mother, five siblings and friends.

Her husband died suddenly early last year. They were married just three years, and there was no insurance. Her car was repossessed last summer. She was almost evicted in September. Yet, somehow, she manages to keep two kids in college and two younger ones - including a daughter with special needs - from losing their way.

The former job coach and retail clerk never made more than $25,000 a year when she was working. But, as she prepared to watch Obama lay out his policy agenda for the year, she was hopeful.

"I just want to hear him tell us that we are going to get through this; that he is not going to quit," Cherry said, as a portable electric heater warmed the living room of her rented row home. "He is doing what he said he is going to do. I believe he is trying to do his best to create jobs with decent pay and benefits for average people like me."

Cherry sat in her easy chair, closely watching Obama's speech. Her mother sat on a couch nearby. Her youngest son and three friends also watched quietly.

"He's going to do it. He's going to talk about jobs," Cherry said, smiling as Obama began his speech. "That's what I want to hear."

Cherry was in the crowd both times that Obama trolled for votes in her neighborhood. In 2008, she was among 30,000 people who packed Vernon Park to hear him make a closing argument for the presidency. Last fall, she was there when Obama was back in Germantown, imploring residents to vote for Democrats. Despite his efforts, the Democrats lost both the governorship and a Senate seat in Pennsylvania in the midterm elections.

"I really wanted to see a physical person I could relate to," she said. "I wanted to know that there was somebody who had me in mind."

Cherry said her faith in Obama has not wavered, although she has been out of work for most of the two years he has been in office.

She nodded at the president's calls to make the country more competitive with better job training and education and by stepping up exports.

"That's what we have to do," she said, before adding that she has been through job training programs. "I've learned all kinds of computer software skills," she said. "But they haven't gotten me a job. The problem is that there are just no jobs."

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