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Kenyans in the US feel the economic meltdown

CHICAGO, November 9 – Mr Njuguna Gitonga has lived and worked in the United States of America for more than five years.

But five months ago, Mr Gitonga lost his job at a company where he worked for three years delivering goods.

“We were about 600 employees but 400 of us were sacked and those who remained were given lesser working hours which are not enough. Life has become very difficult because of the economic crisis,” he narrates.

Mr Gitonga explains that people here are paid per the hours they work and if one does not have enough hours they have to seek alternative means of income which has also become hard to get.

Edward Stuart, a Professor of Economics at the North Eastern Illinois University, told Capital News that by September nine million people or six percent of the 150 million people in the labour force in the United States had lost their jobs due to the economic meltdown.

“It is on its way up and there are predictions it may get to eight percent in the next year due to the global recession, so it’s a serious issue,” he says.

Professor Stuart says men will be the worst affected because in a recession most of the industries that are hardest hit tend to be the construction and automobiles which largely employ men.

“We have two criteria, those who have lost their job and are still looking for one. These are counted in the official unemployment statistics which is now at nine million people,” Professor Stuart explains.

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“But those who got fired but quit looking are not counted in the official unemployment statistics, they are calculated in other data,” he adds.

Latest government reports indicate that in the month of October alone, the country lost another 250,000 jobs with the construction and manufacturing industries again being worst hit.

This has been termed as the worst crisis to have struck the country since the great depression 14 years ago.

Professor Stuart says it may take some time before these people get back or secure other jobs depending on the nature of their work.

“If they are an auto worker or construction worker, it may be impossible to get another job right now because those parts of the economy are so bad,” he states.

“It may take a year, may be by the end of 2009 if we are really optimistic, to get things back on track but this will only be if we get serious fiscal policy,” he says. “If not may be until the year 2010.”

Such news may not be good at all for someone like Mr Gitonga who is on the verge of losing his house.

Home foreclosures have become a common phenomenon as America continues to struggle economically.

“Who knows, tomorrow I may be on the streets,” a visibly disturbed Mr Gitonga says. “I have dropped my CV everywhere but I’m just told to wait and nothing has come up so far.”

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He says this has also affected provision to his family back in Kenya and it is now almost becoming impossible to send money back home.

Mr David Kiriba and Mr Joseph Thuku are also facing similar tribulations. Though they have not lost their jobs, the meltdown has not gone unnoticed in their lives.

“The economy of this country is sinking, jobs are becoming fewer and sales are declining. I work as a salesman at a mattress store and we are now selling fewer and fewer items each day and I am not getting as much as I used to get when I came here,” Mr Kiriba says.

“The rising cost of living has made my income sort of worthless and the amount I send home has decreased significantly because I now have to care for myself first before I care for them,” Mr Thuku chips in.

“I am planning to join one of the local hospitals as a registered nurse to supplement what I get from teaching because even paying for my mortgage has become difficult,” he adds.

 Professor Stuart says the incoming government may have to offer some direct aid to the auto and construction industries which are worst hit to save the situation.

“If I were to give the government advice, I would tell them we need to increase unemployment benefits, increase the length of eligibility from 26 weeks to 52 weeks, we should increase the revenue that the federal government shares with state local governments because (State local governments) are really hurting right now,” he offers.

He suggests that the unemployment benefit which is currently between $500 and $600 should be increased to about $800 due to the increased cost of living.

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