Corbett's comments draws fire from jobless

David Pride, out of work since 2008. He has attended job fairs and has earned a degree.
David Pride, out of work since 2008. He has attended job fairs and has earned a degree.
Posted: July 13, 2010

HARRISBURG - Since West Philadelphia resident David Pride lost his job selling cable service 18 months ago, he hasn't exactly been loafing.

He has attended job fairs and enrolled at Community College of Philadelphia, where he received an associate's degree as a paralegal. And he's fighting City Hall to get blighted buildings removed from his neighborhood.

"I'm not sitting at home collecting checks," said Pride, whose unemployment insurance ran out last week.

Ditto Larry McGee of Bucks County, who said he had sent out 150 resum├ęs since being laid off from a plumbing-supply company in May 2009. And Janet Hillier of Warminster, who until January was working on a contract basis.

Which is why comments by Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett last week about jobs going unfilled and the jobless preferring the government dole over work really stung - so much so that Pride called Corbett on Monday to ask one question:

Just where are those jobs?

At a campaign stop Friday in Lancaster County, Corbett said employers had told him that they have jobs, but can't find workers.

"People don't want to come back to work while they still have unemployment," he said. "They're literally telling him, 'I'll come back to work when unemployment runs out.' That's becoming a problem."

Corbett's comments set off a storm of debate. Democratic opponent Dan Onorato called a Capitol news conference Monday to lambaste Corbett as insulting the hard-working people of Pennsylvania. The Democratic National Committee spun the incident into a broad attack on the policies of the Bush era that they said sent the country into a recession.

Pride, who started his career as a laboratory technician at Johnson & Johnson, said he had tried to adapt to the changing job market, working for AT&T during the 1980s, and later selling insurance and finally cable.

Pride, who declined to give his age, saying he feared age discrimination in the tight job market, thinks Corbett owes an apology to him and the half-million other Pennsylvanians who are out of work.

"I stand ready to work," he said.

Campaign spokesman Kevin Harley said Corbett, the state attorney general, understands that most unemployed Pennsylvanians are trying hard to find work and that he had met with a number of them while campaigning at job-training centers.

"Tom Corbett knows firsthand that people who are unemployed are diligently working to find a job," said Harley. "He was relaying a story that he heard. He regrets that he didn't give a full answer."

Democratic candidate Onorato called Corbett naive to believe there were jobs going unfilled.

"That Pennsylvanians are lazy and don't want to work is an outrageous position to take, and he's simply wrong," Onorato said Monday. "The problem with jobs in Pennsylvania is not with the workers. It's that the jobs are gone. We've got to bring jobs back."

Kevin Shivers, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business-Pennsylvania, which represents small-business owners, said some of his members had told him about new hires' asking to be "paid under the table" or to have a position kept open so they could run out their unemployment compensation. He said he was unaware of any employers who could not find workers.

Some people who have lost their jobs say they have taken part-time work to supplement the compensation.

"I'm not on some kind of vacation here. This is not vacation pay," said Michael J. Hughes, an out-of-work banker who has been looking for a job since April 2009. Hughes teaches business courses at a local college, and his benefits will run out soon.

On Saturday, Hughes, of Havertown, was helping register more than 100 unemployed people who gathered in a Cabrini College lecture hall to network and to listen to a lecture on interviewing skills.

Hughes said he knew two people who were collecting benefits and were working on the side as bartenders at the Shore while they continued the search during the day for full-time employment.

Workers have traditionally received 26 weeks of unemployment compensation, but Congress granted extensions during the recession, allowing some workers to receive as many as 99 weeks of unemployment benefits.

Unless Congress approves another extension, which appears unlikely given the rancor in Washington over additional spending, compensation for those currently unemployed will run out after 26 weeks.

State unemployment compensation provides payments of half of a worker's weekly pay, up to a maximum of $564. The average check for a Pennsylvanian is $310.

"People are not getting rich off of unemployment," said Troy Thompson, spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Industry. "They are not putting money in the bank. It's keeping food on the table and a roof over their heads."

He urged businesses to contact the state if they had positions available so they could be listed on the statewide CareerLink site, which matches employers with those seeking jobs.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are five unemployed people for every job opening.

McGee would beg to differ.

"It seems everyone's going for the same job," he said, adding that despite his work experience and newly acquired associate's degree in business administration, he has not received a single interview in 13 months.

"It's not a picnic," said McGee, 32. "There is no worse feeling in the world than waking up and having no place to go."

Hellier said she left a message Monday at Corbett's campaign office requesting a meeting.

"I've been going out of my way to find a job, and there's nothing out there," said Hillier, who was a purchasing and inventory manager for Apptec, now WuXiApptec, a biotech/pharmaceutical firm whose Philadelphia manufacturing facility closed in 2008. "I'd like to sit down with him and educate him about what it's like."

Pride said he wanted to know which Pennsylvania companies told Corbett they could not find workers.

He shouldn't count on getting that information. Harley said Corbett would not be releasing the names of the companies he spoke to.


Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen contributed to this article.

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