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Sunday, March 07, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Nicole Brodeur / Times staff columnist
Woman works to find work

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The coffee comes, and Jennifer Ryan looks around the restaurant.

"This is one of the places I applied," she says. "They never called back."

But people have called about the ad Ryan, 30, placed in the West Seattle Herald.

Last week, it was the only one under "Work Wanted," and stood out for its mix of desperation, acceptance and a sleeves-up straightforwardness that puts to shame street-corner sign holders and those who would rather collect a check than earn one.

"West Seattle mom will clean, shampoo carpets, do yardwork, clean gutters, drive errands, detail autos/campers, haul & dump, paint, sm. repairs, baby/pet sit, etc. bldg. maint. background, hard worker, strong, able to lift, honest worker w/eye for detail — rsnbl. rates. Need to Make Ends Meet."

That last line says a lot, and no doubt speaks for many.

On Friday, the U.S. Labor Department declared the unemployment rate stuck at 5.6 percent. It described job growth as "surprisingly weak" and "painfully slow."

Behind those words and numbers are people like Ryan. She and her husband, Dan, were getting by on his job as a baker in a downtown hotel and hers as a facilities manager at a chain of health clubs.

But when Jennifer lost her job, their working-class boat tipped toward the sea of poverty. Since then, Ryan has been bailing water.

She refuses to sink — and refuses to whine.
"I hate when people say, 'There are no jobs!' because McDonald's is hiring."

That's not a good option for Ryan, who needs a job with flexible hours or one that will cover the cost of putting her 3-year-old in child care.

And Ryan is willing to do many things to fit that bill.

An elderly woman called, wanting Ryan to clean the dog poop from her yard. ("I don't have a problem doing that. I do it at my own house.")

Another woman wanted her walls prepped for painting — and did Ryan know anyone for that job? "Well, I do painting," Ryan told her.

Weeding. Landscaping. Garage cleaning. "Anything that brings in a few extra bucks," said Ryan, who needs to make more than $14,000 a year to qualify for a small-business license.

She left community college when her mother died. She inherited a strong work ethic and, for a time, cleaned houses and worked in restaurants.

"I don't mind doing dirty work, or the things people can't do or don't want to do," she said. "Hands wash clean."

People have told her to seek state assistance, but Ryan won't. She once applied for aid to help buy infant formula but was refused because her husband had a job.

If Ryan was unmarried and didn't work, she could receive cash, food and medical care. The whole system confounds her.

"They are more willing to help people who don't want to help themselves," she said. "The more you try, the less help you get, and the less you try, the more help you get."

Ryan's solution is to help herself.

"I want my mother to be proud of me, wherever she is."

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or

More columns at

She'd revive her stand-up career.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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