Frank Ortiz Molina wanted to show decision-makers the human side of unemployment. On Monday, he started with U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who was visiting Denver to discuss the president's $447 billion job's bill.
Molina was one of a handful of unemployment benefit recipients who participated in a roundtable discussion that included Solis and U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, at the Denver Workforce Center on Speer Boulevard.
"(The Latino community is) the fastest-growing minority population, and they're the youngest, so we know that they're going to have potentially a large impact on the state," said Solis, in explaining the time she spent on Monday meeting with Latino leaders and business owners as well as unemployed workers.
While the overall unemployment rate in the U.S. is 9%, it's 11.3% for Latinos.
Molina is among that group. He used to work as an executive administrative assistant at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science until budget cuts forced him out last November. Unable to find a job, he eventually decided to go back to school. He is currently working toward a degree in accounting.
"There's somebody at the other end that appears to be listening," said Molina after he explained to a roundtable that included Solis how difficult it has been to find another job and how education, as costly as it is, has been his only alternative.
The American Jobs Act, proposed by President Barack Obama, is a package of tax cuts and new spending that would extend unemployment benefits, help small businesses retain and hire employees and expand the payroll tax cut, among other measures.
The extension of unemployment insurance, which about two million people are about to lose in December, was among the main topics of discussion, Solis said.
"Without this extension many people will become homeless and they will have to look at other means of survival," she said.
In Colorado, extending the benefit would prevent nearly 34,000 people who are looking for work from losing their benefits after only the first six weeks of receiving it.
If his unemployment benefits were not extended, Molina told the roundtable he would survive. But if he's unable to find work here, it might mean moving back to his native Puerto Rico - where the job situation is even worse - because he has no family support here in Denver.
"Does the benefit help? Yes, it helps us stay status quo, so that we can then move on to the next phase of our lives rather than move back five steps," said Molina. "The question is should the population be put in that situation?"
At another discussion earlier in the day - attended by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Gov. John Hickenlooper, other elected officials and representatives from business and nonprofit communities - Solis spoke about new measures that would directly affect the Latino community, such as using unemployment benefits to start small businesses, she said.
Besides extending unemployment benefits, Solis also discussed expanding the payroll tax cut passed last December. For Coloradans, whose median income for a family of four is $56,000, that would mean a tax cut of about $1,700.
"Both of these measures will add jobs, and that's really what the focal point of my visit is," Solis said, adding that hearing each particular story behind the issue of unemployment is also always helpful.
"It reinforced a lot of things that I already knew, but it also helps me to go back and share this information with other policymakers, other cabinet members and, of course, the president."