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America at Work

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According to the latest jobs numbers, issued by the Labor Department on January 6, the U.S. unemployment rate has dropped to 8.5 percent, down from 10 percent in 2009. The Great Recession has claimed more than 8.5 million jobs since 2007, and even though the current trajectory of the U.S. appears to be toward recovery, Americans are still struggling to find work. Nine of the photographs below appear in The Atlantic's January/February 2012 print issue, and I've added 25 more here to round out a collection of images from these years of uncertainty -- of men and women both at work and out of work in the United States. [34 photos]

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A workman steams a U.S. flag in preparation for a planned visit by President Barack Obama, on April 6, 2011, at wind turbine manufacture Gamesa Technology Corporation in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
A workman steams a U.S. flag in preparation for a planned visit by President Barack Obama, on April 6, 2011, at wind turbine manufacture Gamesa Technology Corporation in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Gulls seeking scraps follow a fishing boat where sternman Josh Gatto shucks scallops on the trip back to shore off Harpswell, Maine, on December 17, 2011. Scallop fishing in Maine can only take place between sunrise and sunset. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) #
A worker builds an engine for a 2012 Ford Focus on the assembly line at the Ford Motor Co.'s Michigan Assembly Plant, on December 14, 2011 in Wayne, Michigan. (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images) #
Dan LaMoore of Electric Time Company moves a clock face at their plant in Medfield, Massachusetts, between a large tower clock, left, bound for King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and a post clock headed to South Jordan, Utah, on November 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) #
A wildlife biologist holds a small crocodile that will be released into one of the cooling canals adjacent to the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant during a nighttime crocodile survey in Homestead, Florida, on November 28, 2011. The crocodile monitoring program began in 1978, a year after employees stumbled upon a crocodile nest in the plant's cooling canal system. The initial goal was to ensure that the plant did no harm to the species but over the last three decades it has helped raise the number of crocodiles to more than 1,500 today. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) #
Trenton police officers salute on Friday, September 16, 2011, in Trenton, New Jersey, after they lined up their police boots after being laid off by the city. Trenton was the latest big New Jersey city to go through deep cuts to its police force. More than 100 officers were laid off. (AP Photo/Mel Evans) #
Annette Eigenberger watches shredded cheese come out of a chute at the Sargento Cheese Company, on November 12, 2010, in Plymouth, Wisconsin. While the sluggish economy has taken a toll on manufacturing and related industries, one sector has remained a bright spot over the last few years: food production. (AP Photo/Morry Gash) #
Occupy LA protesters march through the downtown Los Angeles financial district on "Bank Transfer Day," November 5, 2011. Bank Transfer Day, created by the Occupy movement, was a national effort to get people to move their money from large corporate banks into smaller banks or credit unions. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images) #
A Boeing employee works inside the fuselage of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, on September 25, 2011 in Everett, Washington. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images) #
Weld County sheriff's deputy Mary Schwartz collects a toddler before removing the bassinet during a home foreclosure eviction on October 5, 2011 in Milliken, Colorado. The owner, Brandie Barbiere, said she had stopped making mortgage payments 11 months before, after she lost more than half her home child care business due to the continued weak economy. The Barbiere family possessions were removed to the front yard by an eviction team and the door locks changed. (John Moore/Getty Images) #
A furnace technician pushes a ladle full of molten steel with a temperature of 2,900 degrees while working at Eagle Alloy in Egelston Township, Michigan, on May 23, 2011. Eagle Alloy Inc. is one of the survivors of the Great Recession. Along with other local, mid-sized industrial companies, the Egelston Township steel foundry took a beating in 2008 and 2009. But Eagle Alloy, its group of companies, and other surviving Muskegon-area manufacturers have come roaring back from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. (AP Photo/The Muskegon Chronicle, Kendra Stanley-Mills) #
In this April 7, 2011 photo, CEO Kevin Systrom, at left, chats with engineers Shayne Sweeney, center, and MIke Krieger at Instagram in San Francisco. The mobile photo sharing service Instagram launched in October, 2010. Since then, the service has grown to more than 15 million registered users. Despite raising millions from investors the company has no plans to go on a hiring spree or seek to cash in on a quick public stock offering, the stereotypical scenario during the first Internet boom. "It's about going after the best people in the world who want to build a world-class company," Systrom said. "We are pretty sold at staying lean for quite awhile." (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) #
People wait in line during a job fair, sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus, on the campus of Atlanta Technical College in Atlanta, Georgia, on August 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal & Constitution, Bob Andres) #
Steve Walthart, 64, brings hay to his cows at his farm just down the road from Independence in the bordering town of Winthrop, Iowa, on July 6, 2011. Walthart farms corn, soybeans and hay on 560 acres outside Independence, 460 of which he owns. With farmland prices in Iowa now fetching $8,000 or more an acre, he is sitting on a gold mine if ever he decided to sell out but Walthart dismisses the idea of cashing out and retiring. "Think of it, think of it," he said, "what would I do with the money? There's no better place to have it than where I've got it -- in the farmland." He says he expects he will die doing his daily chores. (Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi) #
Biological analyst Alan Dowden of the Seattle Sperm Bank rides the Sperm Bike, a custom-designed, high-tech bicycle used to deliver donated sperm to fertility clinics, in Seattle November 8, 2011. According to Seattle Sperm Bank's managing director Gary Olsem, donor sperm is transported by medical technicians aboard the bike in liquid nitrogen-cooled vacuum containers. The first Sperm Bike was adopted by Seattle Sperm Bank's sibling company, the European Sperm Bank, in Cophenhagen. (Reuters/Anthony Bolante) #
Mervin Sealy from Hickory, North Carolina, takes part in a protest rally outside the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, on October 5, 2011. Demonstrators were demanding that Congress create jobs, not make budget cuts during the protest. (Reuters/Jason Reed) #
Schenectady firefighter/paramedic Adam Colvin's helmet is covered in ice after a neighboring house exploded when a gas main was severed by a construction worker in Schenectady, New York, on January 4, 2012. All occupants were accounted for, and 3 alarms were sounded to control the blaze. (AP Photo/The Daily Gazette, Peter R. Barber) #
National Park Service employee Brian Griffin works on the newly restored bronze figure on top of the 4th New York Artillery Monument, on November 28, 2011 in the Devil's Den area of Gettysburg National Park, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The statue had been pulled from its stone pedestal in 2006 and dragged more than 150 feet, the cost of the damage was about $50,000. The vandals were never found despite the offering of a $30,000 reward. (AP Photo/The Evening Sun, Shane Dunlap) #
Culinary student Kelley Bryan poses at L'Ecole Culinaire culinary school, in Ladue, Missouri, on February 1, 2010. Bryan was hoping to re-enter the job market soon, retrained for a new career. She was laid off earlier in the year, after more than 20 years as a secretary. Most recently, she worked at a public TV station. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) #
Dental assistant student Travis Bell, 32, of Randolph, Massachusetts, practices taking an X-ray on Dexter the dummy during a lab in a diagnostic assisting class at Kaplan Career Institute, on September 4, 2009 in Boston. Bell was laid off from a car part manufacturer and is now collecting unemployment while he takes classes in dental assisting. The teeth in the dummy are real human teeth. (AP Photo/Lisa Poole) #
Cailynn Williams, 17, fills a bag of popcorn for a customer at the New Strand Theater in West Liberty, Iowa, on July 8, 2011. Todd Leach, who owns the New Strand Theater, says that ticket sales were down from last summer due to the economy. (Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi) #
Harvey Lesser, 58, weeps in his car after he was evicted from his apartment by a court order on December 11, 2009 in Boulder, Colorado. Lesser, an unemployed software developer suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes and chronic back problems, said that he could not afford to make his rent payment the previous month, leading to the eviction. Since being laid off by IBM, he said he had exhausted all of his savings, including retirement funds, for cost of living expenses as well as the $700 monthly payments for personal health insurance. (John Moore/Getty Images) #
Eric Rego, of E. Boothbay, Maine, stitches boots in the facility where L.L. Bean boots are assembled in Brunswick, Maine, on December 14, 2011. L.L. Bean's famed hunting boots are seeing a surge in popularity, necessitating the hiring of more than 100 additional employees to make them. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach) #
Police officers stand guard as employees look from inside at marching Occupy Wall Street protesters near the JP Morgan Chase corporate headquarters on Park Avenue in New York, on October 28, 2011. Nearly 400 Occupy Wall Street protesters carried what they said were 7,000 letters of complaint to offices of banks they accused of corporate greed. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) #
Devin Gosney of Burlington, Iowa, a quality inspector, examines the interior of a wind turbine blade at the Siemens Wind Turbine Blade Factory, on Tuesday May 24, 2011, just south of Fort Madison, Iowa. (AP Photo/The Hawk Eye, John Lovretta) #
A trader works at his trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on September 2, 2011 in New York. (AP Photo/Jin Lee) #
Dr. Luis Lizarraga, of the Lockwood Animal Rescue Center in California, holds a female wolf-dog hybrid before spaying the animal at the Alaska SPCA in Anchorage, Alaska, on December 9, 2011. The state had seized 29 hybrid animals, which were transported to the Lockwood sanctuary north of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen) #
From left, Salvador Herrera, 40, from El Salvador, Jose Castillo, 58, from El Salvador and Gerasmo Perez, 63, from Mexico wait for work at a day laborer site in Los Angeles, California, on November 23, 2011. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson) #
Instructor Kevin Ridge teaches students the basics of welding during a beginning class at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Michigan, on October 17, 2011. At a time when Michigan's unemployment rate is increasing, there is at least one job category where employers are almost begging for applicants. The under-reported story is that there is a shortage of skilled trade laborers in Michigan and nationwide. (AP Photo/The Detroit News, Brandy Baker) #
Worker Marilyn MacKay assembles a rifle at the Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc. gun factory in Newport, New Hampshire, on January 6, 2012. (Reuters/Eric Thayer) #
Mike DiBella monitors machines producing razor blades at Gillette's factory in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 5, 2011. On a quiet stretch of the Boston waterfront, about a mile from the city's main tourist sites, a Gillette factory hums along 24 hours a day, producing the company's top-of-the-line razor blades. (Reuters/Brian Snyder) #
Bobby Bailey stretches to tighten a screw that holds a corner of a solar panel at the O2 Energies solar power farm in Newland, North Carolina, on August 4, 2011. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone) #
Postal Clerk Elisha Toni joins postal workers in a national day of protest against plans to close thousands of post offices, eliminate Saturday delivery, close mail processing facilities, cut service, and lay off 120,000 employees, in Los Angeles, California, on September 27, 2011. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson) #
A worker prepares rappelling lines at the top of the Washington Monument as inspections to the earthquake-damaged structure began on September 27, 2011. Engineers rappelled down the 555-foot (170-meter) Washington Monument to assess damage from a rare 5.8-magnitude earthquake and storms that struck the U.S. capital in August. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque) #

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