Politics

President's Day comes with sign spinners, talk about the economy

Andrew Osnaya, 49, spins signs for tax preparer offices, cell phone and seasonal retail stores as a temporary job until he finds a regular, full-time job in restaurant or retail management.
Andrew Osnaya, 49, spins signs for tax preparer offices, cell phone and seasonal retail stores as a temporary job until he finds a regular, full-time job in restaurant or retail management.
Erika Aguilar/KPCC

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As the presidential election heated up this weekend along with temperatures in Southern California, those at the bottom of the economic spectrum who have to endure the swelter in both ways are searching for relief.

“I think we need better jobs, more jobs,” said Andrew Osnaya, 49, as he juggled a white sign pointing to a tax office in Lakewood.

Osnaya, decked out in the patriotic Statue of Liberty garb, makes minimum wage as a walking advertisement. He spins signs to attract taxpayers into the office.

It’s a temporary job. Osnaya used to manage busboys when he was the head dishwasher at a sushi restaurant. He’s looking for another service industry or management job. He's enrolled in job training programs to help him gain skills, he said. Until then, he bears the heat in-costume, spinning signs.

“It can be hard,” he said. “The first couple of days, my feet were tired. They had to get used to it.”

Living on minimum wage is tough, said Osnaya. He said he has lost better job opportunities to undocumented immigrants. That’s why minimum wage and immigration are his top election issues.

“People that need jobs here, they are giving them to others,” Osnaya said.

Osnaya said he’ll be voting but he’s not sure yet who he’ll choose, should his current top favorites still be in the race come California's primary in June: Donald Trump or Marco Rubio.

Though the economy has ostensibly heated up under President Barack Obama, Osnaya said he hasn't felt the effects. Even his last-choice current job isn't a guaranteed future.

In Bellflower, where Osnaya picks up sign spinning jobs from cell phone stores and real estate offices, a woman wearing an orange dress with a white sign that reads “Income Tax, Impuestos” stares down the sidewalk – never blinking an eye.

“We used to have a person here and we saw that they were just not comfortable, so we said, why not a mannequin,” said Sam Desai, owner of Libre Professional Services.  

The mannequin doesn’t need a water break or to rest in the shade when the temperatures reach into the 80's. She also doesn’t need to be paid. But she can’t move and entertain like real sign spinners.

If Osnaya feels like he’s competing with immigrants, more efficient retail owners – he’ll have to add young people to the list.

Over in Long Beach, a teenager dances to hip-hop in a familiar teal Statue of Liberty costume outside a tax preparers office.

The 19-year old smiles when he says he’s making $10 an hour for his first job. As for voting in the coming presidential primary and election, that's a non-issue. 

“Nah, I probably won’t,” he said.