More than 100 employers are taking part in a job fair today as part of the final stop of the Congressional Black Caucus' “For the People” national jobs initiative tour. Applicants lined up as early as 4 a.m. on Wednesday in front of the Crenshaw Christian Center on Vermont Avenue in South LA.
Some applicants have reached a desperation point hoping to get work. The first person in line was 43-year-old James Penny, who has been out of work for four years. He hoped to have better luck at the job fair than he's had online.
"I do heavy equipment jobs and stuff and construction," Penny said. "I walked from 79th and Broadway to get here. I thought it was going to be a long line. I ended up being first.”
More than 4,000 people showed up to the job fair and the line stretched two blocks up Vermont Avenue from 79th Street and then turned the corner. Nearly everyone was sharply dressed, wearing business suits and clutching briefcases and resumes.
"Well, that’s an indication that people are serious about wanting to get a job," Rep. Maxine Waters (D-35th District) said. "We’ve got young people in line; we’ve got middle-aged people in line; we’ve got folks in line who have had jobs in the past – and for some reason, they got laid off.
When 26 year-old Rekita Charles showed up around 4 a.m., she was the third person in line. By 7 a.m., that line wrapped around a city block. Charles is a single mother with three children and a full course load at Southwest College. She’s worked as a receptionist, guarded properties and handled customer service, but in the couple of years none of her job experience seemed to help.
"Remember it was a time where I could quit one job and just be like, I’m gonna find me another job next week. I’ll get the newspaper and get me a job. But now, it’s just like…non-existent," she said.
Approximately 170 employers such as Starbucks, Disneyland, Home Depot and Bank of America, are setting up shop to recruit new hires.
"Our company is actually in expansion growth mode, so we’re actively looking for people, and that’s why we’re out here today, said Michael Hatter, who works for the retirement planning firm First Financial Security. He says his Buena-Park-based company is trying to hire 25 to 50 people. "We had a lot of people that got disenchanted with the job market, and things are turning around slowly, but they’re definitely turning around, and I think a lot of people experience that."
The job fair runs until 5 p.m. this evening, and is part of a larger effort by the CBC to improve the 16 percent unemployment rate of African-Americans. The figure is double the unemployment rate of whites.
Rep. Laura Richardson of South L.A. (D-37th District) was at the event today, and she says the event is not just a photo-op. All companies participating in the event must have jobs available and be ready to hire now.
But large-scale change starts with Obama, Richardson said.
"What I'd like to hear from the president is how is his plan going to help the everyday American who needs a job?" Richardson said on the Madeleine Brand Show this morning.
Although Richardson says she's glad Obama is president, she thinks Americans need more explicit help finding jobs. "I think the president should speak more directly with the people who need assistance."
Richardson says that Obama visits those in need in rural America, but often overlooks those in urban America; specifically, those in her part of South L.A.
The job fair took place days before President Obama plans to unveil his job creation strategy just after Labor Day.
Audio: KPCC’s Brian Watt speaks with Steve Julian from the Crenshaw Christian Center on Vermont Avenue in South LA.