For generations, a hardworking person, mostly men, with a high school diploma, or less, could count on a blue-collar job. But decades of factory closings ended those opportunities - until recently.
These days, factory jobs, especially the highly skilled machinist positions, are going begging - some because they are too technical for someone without a post-high-school education, some because manufacturing has a bad reputation, and some because the factories aren't near public transit.
"We've talked to companies who can't run a third shift because they can't find the people," said Anthony Girifalco, vice president of the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center, a group that works with manufacturers.
"The irony is that we continue to send our young folks to four-year institutions to find themselves, at $40,000 or $50,000 a year," he said, "and they come out with a certain set of skills that aren't in demand in the market place."
Yes, hiring has picked up, but the increases since January 2010 have done little to erase the 5.4 million jobs lost nationally since 2000 - jobs gone through automation and the movement of work to Mexico, Turkey, China, and Malaysia.
In 1990, when Berko was the age of his infant son, 348,200 people were employed in manufacturing in the region, with 68,500 of those jobs in Philadelphia.
Now, Philadelphia factories employ 24,800, a subset of the region's 186,510. In 2008, Chrysler shut the doors of its sprawling plant in Newark, Del., putting 2,100 out of work, and last year, more than 800 refinery workers in Marcus Hook and Trainer lost jobs.
Since 2007, area factory jobs have gone abroad:
When Kulicke & Soffa moved its work, Bud Tyler, vice president at the EF Precision Group, a machining company in Willow Grove, felt the pain. Machining and repair for Kulicke was 30 percent of sales, supporting 115 employees. Now, there are 85.
"Kulicke & Soffa used to keep 100 machine shops like mine busy," Tyler said. "Now there are just a few left."
And while he'd like to hire a machinist, he can't afford the five years to train someone like Berko.
In Philadelphia, Berko relies on unemployment. When working, he had a car and an apartment, where he lived with his girlfriend and son.
Now, they're with her mother, and he's sleeping on a mattress in the basement of his brother's house. Berko sold the car to pay bills, which means he can't get to third-shift jobs in the suburbs.
"I'm hoping I can get a break, and someone will hire me," he said. "I'd like to have a house, a car, and some money to take the family out to eat once in a while.
By the time she finishes graduate school, she'll be close to $60,000 in debt.
The lesson is in the numbers, but it's one Janet Cress already knows.
In Pennsylvania, school districts shed 14,159 positions last year, the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators estimated, based on its August survey.
Unable to get a teaching job, Cress works as a special-education classroom aide. "I have a four-year degree, I have a teaching-certificate," said Cress, 27. "I'm months away from a master's degree, and I'm basically in the same position as in my first job out of college."
Even at $76 a day, Cress loves her job. But her situation illustrates what is happening to what used to be a reliable profession for college graduates, especially for those like Cress, who started college in 2003 when there were teacher shortages.
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