Kenneth Sparks might have dabbled in illegal work 12 years ago, but today he is looking for a respectable job. But like many Philadelphians, he can't find one.
"I'm trying," Sparks said of spending his first month out of jail looking for work. "For guys who are coming out of jail trying to do something different than what they did before jail, [they] can't get no kind of help out here."
Sparks and about 30 other jobless Philadelphians rallied yesterday outside of the Municipal Services Building in hopes of getting lawmakers to extend unemployment benefits and COBRA subsidies for jobless Americans. A bill to do that is awaiting action in the Senate.
Protesters called on Congress to push the bill along quickly so that they could continue receiving health benefits.
Frank Wallace, 45, of South Philly, said he has spent the last year attending job fairs, searching online and networking with friends and family to try to find a job.
"I'm completely employable," he said. "I have skills and experience that are transferable."
Wallace spent nine years at a law firm working as a clerk and a purchasing supervisor until he needed to leave for health reasons. Now, walking the streets with resume in-hand, Wallace relies on unemployment checks to get him through the week.
"For people like me, it's a fight to get something," he said of being single and unemployed. "My family has their own struggles, whether working or not."
Pat Eiding, president of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO, said Congress better know it won't get support from the unemployed if it doesn't act.
"If you are a legislator and you're not about jobs and you're not about putting people to work, you're not our friend," he said. "Don't ask for our help, and don't ask for our votes."
Sparks said he didn't know about the stalled bill until he saw the protesters yesterday and decided to join them.
He said he imagined a better life for himself after jail, but says he loses hope every day while staying at a North Philly halfway house, living off welfare checks and food stamps."I need more," he said. "In my situation I need to be able to stand on my own."