For Young People in Johnstown, Help Wanted

Millennials in Johnstown are having a hard time making ends meet and they're hoping someone can give them a chance to succeed

Johnstown Labor Ready
NBC10/Vince Lattanzio

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — It’s noon on Saturday and whole streets are empty. No one driving. No one walking. Vacant buildings, some large and some small, dot block after block.

'For Sale' signs are plenty.

“All these buildings are empty,” Jazmyne Kuhn said sitting on a bench in Central Park, the western Pennsylvania city’s neatly manicured town square.


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“They’re just sitting there. These buildings could be used for anything,” she said.

The 20-year-old came to the park to play Pokemon Go after buying groceries at the Dollar General on the square’s northwestern edge. She’s dressed down in a green tank and yoga pants, hair under a scarf, and concerned about her future.

“I don’t have a job. I can’t find one. No one is hiring young [people],” she said.

Kuhn is an artist. She sells her work online to make ends meet. She’d love to be an animator, but said that’s out of reach in Johnstown.

“What I want to do would require so much college experience, and that would require so much money, and to have money, I’d have to have a job,” she said.

NBC10/Vince Lattanzio

It’s a vicious cycle that's common in the town of 21,000 which is most famous for a series of floods that destroyed the community.

Johnstown has a poverty rate of 34 percent — twice the national average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More people are in poverty here than in Philadelphia, the most impoverished major city in the United States.

Young people, like Kuhn, are most affected, according to her and others her age.

Shaylyn Massey, 19, works as a call center representative for a local bank. But she’s the exception among the 47 members of her high school graduating class, she said.

“A lot of them don’t work. A lot of them just like make babysitting money and stuff like that. They don’t have a real job,” she said.

Most people Steve Ganser went to high school with are struggling. The 32-year-old says the Johnstown, once a major steel city, hasn’t been the same since milling went dark.

“The hospital is the main source of jobs in the area,” said Ganser, who now lives in the Harrisburg area. “The town, it's very depressed.”

NBC10/Vince Lattanzio

Elders in need of work easily take open positions, Kuhn said, leaving many young people to choose welfare or "terrible work." The latter qualifies as slinging burgers in fast food restaurants and the like, she explains.

“People say ‘Help Wanted’, there’s a 'Help Wanted' sign over there, but if you’re young. If you’re around a young age, it’s absolutely impossible to get a job,” she said.

As Kuhn explained her situation in Central Park, the staff at Johnstown Wire Technologies, two miles away, prepared to welcome Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for a tour of their factory.

The company makes industrial-grade wiring used in transportation and electrical projects. Clinton is visiting the facility as part of a seven city, three day bus tour through Pennsylvania and Ohio to talk about her massive job creation proposal.

In the plan, Clinton says she’ll provide tax credits for apprenticeship training for trade jobs, support high-tech manufacturing and help make college affordable by lowering loan costs and making public colleges debt free.

Clinton touts the plan as the largest employment effort since World War II and vows to get it underway in her first 100 days in office, if elected.

Kuhn, who is undecided over who she’ll vote for, welcomes any help.

“We want to work. We have the drive to work, but no one will give us that chance and that is our problem, no one will give us that opportunity to work,” she said.

Massey agrees. An ardent Clinton supporter, she believes opportunity can be seized, if given the chance.

"If we had a little bit of hope, just reach that goal, we would be fine."

NBC10's Vince Lattanzio and David Chang are on the road with the Clinton-Kaine campaign as they tour Pennsylvania and Ohio by bus. Follow their travels on FacebookTwitterInstagram and to get dispatches from the trail and behind the scenes views of what it's like to cover a presidential campaign.

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