Noelle Lewis is a poster child for Barack Obama volunteers. Politically motivated for the first time in her life, the 28-year-old San Francisco resident paid her own way to Las Vegas during the campaign to knock on doors on his behalf. On Election Day, she took the day off work to join other volunteers at the Oakland Marriott Convention Center to call voters in other states to rally last-minute support.
"I've never really been involved with anything that was part of history while it was happening," Lewis says. "I felt lucky that I was."
But the problem with making history is the hangover. About 1.5 million people actively volunteered to help elect Obama as the 44th U.S. president. But from November to January, the country lost more than 1.6 million jobs. For some Obama volunteers, the deteriorating job market has made the inevitable return to reality a steep fall.
Three weeks after the election, Lewis lost her marketing job. Unable to find a comparable position, she took a job at Sports Basement. "It's been a long three months," she says.
Full-time employment has been as elusive as congressional bipartisanship for 27-year-old Jason Halal, a former Obama team captain in the Mission. The George Washington University graduate, who has four years of nonprofit experience, now works the floor at Trader Joe's and a part-time public relations gig. In January, he asked his parents for help with the rent. "I sort of hit the bottom of the barrel then," he says.
Campaigning for Obama connected millions of people in a common cause. But Neil Chan's California Democratic Party internship hasn't done much for his postelection job search. "After the campaign ended, most of the people who worked on it kind of went their separate ways," the 23-year-old says. His recent jobs include hardwood flooring and data entry. Now applying to law school, Chan doesn't blame his new president: "I didn't think everything was going to magically reverse itself. I understand it takes time."
In November, the nation elected a president on the strength of his promise rather than his experience. No one is gambling on that potential now, at least in the job market. "I know what I'm good at," Lewis says. "I know what I can do. But people who are hiring aren't really willing to take a chance on somebody who could do a great job, given the training."