Six months ago, 42-year-old Michelle thought her life was finally turning around. She had conquered her addiction and been sober for four years. She was paying off old college debt. Her daughter and grandson were staying with her and, despite battling dyslexia, she had been on her job as an administrative assistant for three years, a job she just knew would help her get to the next level of her career.
"The job was starting to open up doors for me," said the District of Columbia resident. "I felt like it was an opportunity to turn my life around. I was feeling really positive."
Then, like millions of other Americans, she got devastating news. Her job in the nonprofit world was closing in two weeks because of a lack of funding.
Michelle began feeling overwhelmed and depressed. She sent her adult daughter and grandson to live somewhere else. She began worrying about money. She tried to enroll in training workshops, but found it difficult to keep up with the large class because of her dyslexia.
"The job loss came suddenly. Losing that job just plummeted me into a depression, and I was down and out. I was not at my right thinking. I panicked."
Michelle is not alone in her frustration. Like the 9.1 percent of Americans who are unemployed today, and the 16.7 percent of African Americans, she worries about the future. She hopes President Obama's jobs proposals will help turn the economy around.
"It's been very difficult to find a job. Jobs are scarce. We need the funding to create jobs," she said.
Michelle knows that coming from a background that includes addiction will make it harder for her, but she wants to see a job package that's inclusive of all Americans. "Opportunities need to be extended to people like myself coming from addiction." Though her church is helping her, she said government needs to take some of the responsibility, particularly helping forgive student loans.
Kori Ward, 38, of Los Angeles also hopes the president's plan can create jobs. She was laid off twice in the past few years and has been unemployed for a year and a half. She worked as a legal secretary/office assistant for 20 years and had a resume full of work experience. During that time, she said, she never had problems finding employment, often going on interviews and getting offers the same day, until the market came tumbling down.
Ward is a fan of the president and his administration, but she is uncertain about how much he can do about jobs.
"There's not anything he can say to make us feel better. There are so many people laid off, I just don't know where these hundreds of thousands of jobs are coming from," said Ward.
Advocates on the ground say the timing is crucial to create policies and projects that will change the status quo and fast.
"People are falling off the edge," said James Adams, an organizer at OurDC a nonprofit in Washington that's focused on helping residents find and maintain good jobs. "Middle Class families are struggling to pay their electric bills. We see true pain. We see the despair. We hear their stories' and see the tears."
Adams wants Congress and the president to restructure the tax policy, stop spending cuts and focus on creating projects that can help bring jobs to the city.
Andre Henderson, 23, hopes one of those planned projects would bring jobs to the District. After two years of attempting to find work, he has been unable to secure a job, a particularly worrisome situation after his new daughter was born eight months ago.
After filing many applications, he heard back from one employer — a WalMart in Maryland, about a part-time job. Without a car he knew the commute would be tough, but he was desperate to work. There were problems. The buses don't run on Sunday, when he was scheduled to work. After missing a few Sundays because of lack of transportation, he knew it wasn't working out. He asked to be transferred to closer store, but the company told him he needed to have worked there for a year. He had no option but to leave the job.
Since then, Henderson has earned certificates in culinary arts and hopes to go back to school to get a medical degree. "This job market is crazy," he said. "I'm really mad. I'm really frustrated. I have an 8-month-old to support. My main focus is to find a job anyway I can. I'm not getting any older. I don't want my daughter to go through this."
Though he has participated in OurDC marches, in hopes of getting policymakers to pay attention to the plight of the workers, he's sick of all the talk and wants to see some action.
"I don't want to even hear him talk about it (creating jobs)," he said earlier this week, before the president's address. "I just want him to do it."
Fifty-six-year old Detroit resident Regina Smith said that beyond job creation, the president must focus on programs that give people substantial training.
She worked as a call center operator for over 20 years. She had a stable job when she was living in Missouri, but she moved when her husband got a new job and had difficulty finding work in her new city.
"It's hard. It's who you know. I haven't been able to find a permanent position," Smith said. "It could be my age. I've got 25 years' experience. The problem is they don't want to train. It's less pay, and it's a lot to learn."
She said she's driving farther, working hard at temp jobs with complicated tasks for low pay.
"These companies need to work at training these people, not a quick fix training," she said. "I haven't made $9 in 20 years. The training has to be more than two weeks."
Hazel White, a career consultant at the Urban League in Los Angeles, said President Obama needs to listen to the concerns of the community.
"They are desperate for relief," she said. "They're at the bottom of the barrel, willing to take anything."
White said employers have put strong limitations and requirements on people. "Companies need to cut back on standards and give people a chance," she said. "Even the people with degrees can't get a job at McDonald's."
She wants the president to plead with some of the companies to loosen stipulations that weren't in place before the fiscal crisis.
Henderson said that if the president can't turn things around soon, the crisis is only going to worsen. "Mostly all of my friends are in the same circumstances," he said. "People can't get a job, so they turn to selling drugs and robbing. I know people who didn't do that before, but they need the money. For them it's, 'I'm going to sell this or be out in the street,'" he said.
Added Ward, "People used to be robbing Peter to pay Paul. Now they're going to be shooting Paul so they never have to pay him back."