NASHUA, N.H. President Obama traveled to Nashua, N.H. on Tuesday to unveil a new lending program aimed at strengthening community banks and boosting hiring among small businesses.
A few days prior, WBUR traveled to the city’s Main Street, where a divided citizenry reflected on Mr. Obama’s first-year performance and expressed contrasting feelings on future economic turnaround.
The Lunchtime Crowd
“I voted for him, so I’m sticking with him,” said retiree Don Fornier, granting the president some slack. “He did get in here with a big bundle on his back. I’ll wait till his first term is over.”
On this day, Fornier was part of the lunchtime crowd on Main Street’s Norton’s Classic Cafe, a 1950’s retro restaurant, the sort with a booth designed like the tail-end of an old Cadillac.
Sitting in the “Cadillac” and expressing skepticism ahead of Mr. Obama’s visit was Arthur Caffrey, a Nashua alderman and an unemployed health care worker.
“I think he’s not done a very good job,” Caffrey said. “He has had the majority in the House, a super-majority in the Senate, and is yet unable to pass anything. He’s failed on the economy. I happen to be one of those one-in-10 Americans that don’t have a job, and I’ve been looking for over a year. So, Mr. Obama, come right ahead and find me a job, if you can.”
Caffrey said he is encouraged by Mr. Obama’s renewed focus on jobs, but thinks the tactics thus far have been misguided. He wishes the president would maintain low taxes to “let the business engine itself run.”
George Norton, the restaurant’s proprietor, stands to be directly affected by Mr. Obama’s lending proposal. Despite the economic slowdown, he has maintained his workforce, but has no plans for hiring, either.
Norton has seen the changes in the economy reflected in his customers’ eating habits. “They are definitely spending less,” Norton said. “In the morning, they’ll come in and get a muffin and coffee instead of a breakfast. For lunch, they may skip the fries, or (say), you know, ‘I’d like to have a soda but I’m just going to have water.'”
The Job Seekers
Elsewhere in Nashua, the financial concerns are more apparent.
On this afternoon, Ken McIver and Sherry Babson populated a fairly busy Southern New Hampshire Employment Services office.
McIver actually lost work before the recession, in late 2006, as the result of a spinal injury. His planned return to the workforce, at a personally difficult time, was derailed by the failing economy.
“To be honest, the beginning of 2008 was very hard for me,” McIver said. “Lost my home, we had just lost one of our daughters (who) had passed away, we were homeless, no income — we didn’t know what we were going to do.”
McIver said the job hunt has been “virtually impossible,” as his injury has forced him to look for different positions. Most times, he has found that he does not have the requisite experience or education.
Babson was a nurse’s aid for 13 years before taking a manufacturing job in Nashua. The new position allowed her to work days and care for her two daughters in the evening.
Babson concurs with McIver on the difficulty of securing employment. “It has been tough,” Babson said of her unemployment last year. “Maybe there’s one position, but there are like 40 to 50 applicants for that one position.”
Despite prolonged unemployment, both McIver and Babson remain impressively patient with Mr. Obama and the government.
“I am giving him a bit of slack because he is taking the bull by the horns,” McIver said. “He has only been in office one year. Even when he started campaigning, he said it is going to take time. So I am giving him that time. I will give him till the end of his first term if need be.”
“I agree,” Babson said. “I think it can’t happen overnight and people think it can. It’s going to take him time to do what needs to be done.”
Click “Listen Now” to hear the full Nashua, N.H. interviews.