Mother Jones photographed and interviewed Americans working in California, North Carolina, Florida, New York, and Wisconsin for their thoughts about their jobs and their views on Clinton’s economic performance.

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Sandra Valencia, 30
Pastry cook
3 years college
married, 1 kid

People ask me where I learned to speak English so well. I tell them I’m American.

I can’t see myself doing this for 20 years, because it’s the same every day. Working for the union would satisfy me more. We’re fighting to unionize hotel workers in L.A. 100 percent. The government could help protect us by not letting people cross picket lines.

I don’t feel any job security because I’ve seen so many hotels just close up. If my husband and I had waited to have a baby until we were financially secure, we’d still be waiting. We’re always strapped for cash. I’m pregnant now, but I can’t foresee having more than two children. How would I support them? My parents worked really hard, but when they were my age, they had a lot more than I have today.

Harry Andrews, 45
Methodist minister
Seminary graduate
Married, 2 kids

The only thing that threatens the church in general is the economy. Our attendance is up 50 percent over the last three years, but giving is up only 7 percent. People are losing jobs, and they can’t give. People are retiring; their pensions aren’t as large as they expected.

I managed a Wendy’s for eight years. I got held up a few times, par for the course. One morning I went in to work early and felt a very strong call. The Lord said, “If you’re still ready, I’m still ready for you.” So 11 years ago I left a $34,000-a-year job for a $9,000-a-year job preaching at two churches.

Five years from now I’ll still be in the pulpit ministry. My daughter will be in college, and my son will be about to start. I’ll support my children in anything they want to do. I don’t buy into the theory that kids don’t have opportunities now. It’s a cop out.

Larry Moore, 40
Community organizer
Bachelor’s degree
Divorced, 2 kids

When I started working as an organizer in 1987, I was making $15,000. I had a second job as a geriatrics counselor. I’m considering a second job now, because $22,000 ain’t cutting it. The bare minimum for me, as a single man, to contribute to my family and put something away is $30,000 a year.

In my work I see a lot of people who don’t work. After being without money for so long, people’s attitudes change. They get into drugs, get rich, then end up dead. If I sold drugs, I could get $30,000 in three to four months. I’m confronted with that every day. I can’t drive the car I want, wear the clothes I want. It seems like the people who are doing best are the ones outside the law.

I thought Clinton would take more money from the Pentagon and stick it into revitalizing the infrastructure. Maybe he will help the upper middle class, but I’m not very hopeful he’ll do a lot for the lower echelons. Sometimes I think publicly funded programs should just create jobs, not fund people like me who run around talking about empowerment. There’s a lot of poverty pimping: people making money off poor people by creating bureaucracies. I have to ask myself all the time if that’s what I’m doing.

Charlie Seda, 26
Construction worker
High school graduate
Married, 2 kids

I’ve worked a lot of temporary jobs. They aren’t reliable. The agencies tell you, “OK, we got you a job. It’s up to you to keep it.” You work your hardest, then the next thing you know, you’re on the streets looking.

I didn’t want to work at minimum wage anymore. I had a hard time getting union work, but with a union, the pay’s more reliable. I’ve had the job I’m on now two months. It’s only the second job I’ve had that I feel confident when I wake up in the morning that I still have a job.

If you don’t have training and a certificate, no one wants to train you on the job. Clinton wanting to train the workforce is great, but what if you don’t get a job after the training? What then? With construction, I’m afraid we’ll build so much, there won’t be anything left to build. Then what will be left? It’ll just be maintenance and doctors.

Ana Nolasco, 26
Garment worker
High school graduate
Single, 1 kid

I came to the United States to find honest work. I had done hand embroidery for my family in El Salvador–hearts and birds mostly. One day I read in the paper they were hiring people to run embroidery machines.

I’ve had to learn how to handle a computer and load disks with designs on them. Our machines are able to do a lot more now, and it’s not as hard as it was when we did it by hand. I don’t think it’s cut work down, but it makes it much faster.

Even with jobs moving to Latin America, the living in America is still better than in El Salvador. The wages they earn in a week, I earn in a day here.

Most factories are closing down or moving away. I worry about it. I take English lessons on Saturdays because I want to do something besides factory work. That way, if the factory closes down, I could do something else. I’d like a job in an office–something that was more intellectual, less physical.

This country was founded by immigrants, but we’re made to feel we’re not wanted. People come here to better themselves. The government should help, give them opportunities to learn English and get training.

Karen Tarlow, 47
Asst. vice president
Wall Street bank
MBA in finance

I always thought, “If I get more credentials, I’ll get what’s due me.” So I went for my MBA at night. I still have not gotten the raises and promotions I should have. It’s not that I didn’t work hard; it’s not that I didn’t give things up. I gave up an awful lot. But I didn’t get rewarded properly. I hit the glass ceiling hard.

I don’t want to go to another job where I’m told the sky is pink and I have to swallow it along with lunch. But the finances are compelling. Every night I think about my dream job. Owning a bookstore would be great, but I’m not sure I want to spend all my savings on a bookstore. I might have to use my savings to eat someday.

I’m 47, I’ve had all this education, and I find myself asking, “Where do I go now?” There is no job security anymore. The dream is gone; it’s not going to get better. As we export jobs, other places will get better, but look at all the people here who aren’t buying goods and services. We’re becoming a Third World country.

It’s very insidious how the rich get richer. They do it beyond the government, no matter what the government tries to do. Insider trading is the norm.

Larry J. Gantzer, 27
Asst. golf pro
$22,800/year plus fees
High school graduate

I think you have to work your way up no matter what you do. I don’t have any kind of retirement fund, and I have to pay in full for my health insurance. But I own my own house and I got married a year and a half ago. The opportunity is there for everyone.

It doesn’t worry my that I don’t have a college degree. So many people who have college degrees don’t have jobs.

My wife is upset because they’re building a lot of cheap housing here in Napes. She’s worried that crime will rise like it has in Miami. But you need people to do different jobs. You have to have people flipping burgers and collecting trash. You can’t just have people who want good jobs.

Brenda Bettencourt, 43
Correctional officer
3 years college
Married, 1 kid

My brother’s a retired policeman, and I have two uncles in law enforcement. My aunt was a matron at a prison in Arizona. I can’t see myself working anywhere but at an institution. I’m not the type to go looking for trouble, but I won’t walk away from it either.

I used to be an executive secretary. I got a job with the state for job security and better benefits. As a security officer, I get better benefits than other state employees. I don’t know that people who work for institutions should make more money, but we work very hard for the money we do make. My job is as secure as a job can be these days. We never run out of inmates.

Marie Dupuy, 43
Day care center owner
Bachelor’s degree
2 kids

In Haiti I was from a privileged family. When I came to the United States, I stayed as a legal alien for 10 years. It’s a big decision for a black, foreign-born person to become a citizen. Now I make sure I fulfill my civic duties.

I taught French in public schools for four years. I don’t think teachers are paid what they’re worth.They get frustrated, they hate the kids, hate their jobs. But teachers need to be more conscientious about their responsibilities. All children deserve better. I looked for a better way to help. I opened aday care center, and now I’m satisfied in mywork.

My children are going to be successful Americans. Their names will be known all over. I’m not talking about how much money they make; I hope they will make a difference.

If the economy’s bad, that’s trouble. Then the parents can’t pay me. Who is going to pay for Clinton’s health plan? I’m concerned as a small-business owner about having to pay for my employees’ insurance. But a real democrat has to think about being fair and taking responsibility.

Sylestine Taylor, 37
Hair Weaver
3 years college
Married, 1 kid

I was doing hair weaves and additions while I went to school. One day I got a call from a lady who’d been bald on top of her head for most of her life. When she took off her wig, it brought tears to my eyes. There aren’t a lot of people who do cosmetic hair restoral, so what I’m doing is crucial to my clients.

In five years I see myself owning a full-service salon. I’ve already talked to the Small Business Administration about how to expand, and I’m writing a grant to get funding from the government.

My Christmas present to my son was a trust account, but I’m concerned about whether there will be money for him to go to the school of his choice. Sometimes I don’t feel the opportunity will be there.


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