Real faces, real pain

Published 8:58 pm Thursday, April 12, 2012

A drive past the downtown Hilton Garden Inn on Wednesday afternoon should have provided all the evidence one needed that the lackadaisical economy continues to affect real people in real, painful ways.

With temperatures struggling to remain in the 60s, a line of people wrapped from inside the hotel, down the back sidewalk and into the parking lot, where it wound back and forth as more than 1,000 people waited for a chance to apply for about 200 jobs that will be available when Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc. opens its new production and distribution site at the Shirley T. Holland Intermodal Park on Route 460 in Windsor.

They came from Suffolk, from Isle of Wight and Franklin, from greater Hampton Roads and from North Carolina in search of work. There were middle-aged men wearing suits and clutching professionally produced résumés and young women with miniskirts chatting on iPhones. Some had been unemployed for a long time and hoped to catch a break with a company new to the area. Others were looking for second jobs to supplement incomes that had been hurt by a variety of factors.

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There was a familiar refrain among many of those waiting for a chance to talk to the hiring staff on hand from Green Mountain: “I’ll take anything.” It’s the same thing that so many in today’s workforce are feeling.

Most of those who still have their jobs after all the layoffs and furloughs of the past few years are happy to be employed, even if they’re doing more work to make up for the manpower their companies have lost. Many of those who have had to find lesser jobs continue to hit the streets in search of extra income. And a distressing number of those who lost their jobs and have been unable to find new ones have completely given up on the search.

Declining unemployment numbers offer some hope. But that hope is tempered by the knowledge that many Americans are working for less pay than they earned two years ago and the fact that government unemployment statistics ignore those who have stopped receiving unemployment benefits and have given up searching for work.

Virginia — and Suffolk specifically — have fared comparatively well during this long economic crisis. But Wednesday’s line of people looking for work proves that there are real faces of real people behind even those unemployment figures.