El Paso County spreads out beneath Pikes Peak to the arid high plains that stretch toward Kansas. It is dominated by conservative Colorado Springs and its surrounding military facilities, which include the Air Force Academy, NORAD and Fort Carson. The area's aerospace and defense industry was hit hard by last year's automatic cuts in federal spending, which economists blame for aggravating a persistent joblessness problem.
At the workforce center, desperation for help co-exists with the area's self-reliant conservative ethos.
One Army veteran who has been unemployed since his discharge last year rushed into the center after hearing his benefits may expire shortly. "If it gets cut off, it's nothing I'm ready for," said the man, who refused to give his name, fearing people would learn he's getting jobless aid. "I understand, you can't keep people on it forever. It's important to get people working."
Others feel that after having contributed to society, they are now being abandoned by the government. "I paid my taxes. I've helped people my whole life," said Barbara Greene, 59, who lost her job as a medical secretary in a hospital last year and expects her jobless benefits to end in March, "and now they're just throwing me to the side."
Ness started working as a maid at age 16. She spent her last 17 years in the labor force working in logistics and acquisitions at the Air Force base. For the past 17 months she's been unable to find a job that comes close to what she had. The only positions she's been offered interviews for are in call centers and pay about $9 an hour — less than she made three decades ago. She's been stunned at how "incredibly competitive" the job market is now.
"I find it very offensive when they say people on unemployment are just milking it," Ness said. "I'm not a big fan of rejection and I get rejected every day."
Associated Press writer Brian Bakst contributed from St. Paul, Minn.
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