In San Francisco, hope mixes with political frustration

SAN FRANCISCO -- Milling crowds of office workers, tourists, mothers with babies, and the homeless spill through the farmers market between City Hall and Market Street.

And on a rare sunny day in September, some stop to talk about the nation's unemployment crisis and what President Obama and Congress should do about it.

Even those who supported Obama say they hold little hope that he can turn things around, and most express exasperation about the inability of Congress to work together on the problem.

Alisandro Aponte, 61, is an independent, but with the economy "out of control" he says he's sick of politicians who aren't interested in fixing things.

"The solutions are there, but we don't have any political discourse anymore. We just have people screaming at each other," he says.

He plans to listen to Obama's speech, but says the president's "dealing with a Congress that's so myopic — they shouldn't be worried about the debt, they should focus on jobs." Aponte is unemployed and trying "to employ myself" by creating a website. He'd like to see unemployment benefits extended, especially for people in their late 50s and 60s.

Bookkeeper Tom Ratcliff says he shops at the market in part because it's an inexpensive place to get produce, which is important because his hours were cut in half in the past year and his salary reduced by 60%.

"I voted for President Obama, but I don't know if the words are there," he says. "I think he gives a fabulous speech. I don't think he's too intellectual as some people say," he says. "But no one seems to be listening."

The gridlock in Congress makes it hard for him to have hope that things will get better. "These Baby Boomers who are getting elected, they're not responsible to the people's needs. They just want to put their own ideas out there."

Ratcliff, 66, says the gourmet food supply company he works for has started to see orders build back up in recent months, but so many customers have gone out of business in the last five years that, while he's "hopeful, it's still a long way to go."

Rosie Scott says she's going to forgo her planned afternoon at the gym to listen to Obama's speech at 4 p.m. PT. "I'm definitely going to watch it," she says. She's hoping the speech will help people come together to work on the pressing problems the nation faces.

"I think he can do it. He's looking good, his hair's grayer, he looks more mature. We need to give him another term so he can make it happen," says Scott, who works for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and declined to give her age.

Kim Rubens, 51, says she'll probably listen to the speech: "He is the president. People do want to look up to him."

She does criminal background checks on people applying for jobs and has had her hours cut by a third in the past year. "I used to get 150 names a day. Now it's 60," she says. "Making the rent is harder. I had to cut down on eating out. I don't go shopping the way I used to."

She's also a painter but has seen commissions get harder to land.

But you can't blame the government, or the president, you've just got to step up, says Rubens. "I know friends who've found work. It's not impossible, but it's more of a challenge."

Tourists Maria Teresa Lafuente, 47, and Maria Pilar Yturmendi, 45, of Zaragoza, Spain, say they're impressed that the president speaks directly to the nation about important issues such as jobs.

Lafuente is unemployed, while Yturmendi works at a shipping company. "We cut everyone's hours by two hours a day, so that all 35 of our employees could keep their jobs," she says. "Is it possible you could do that in the United States?"