They want jobs. They need to work. From Laguna Boulevard in Elk Grove to Sunrise Boulevard in Citrus Heights, job seekers lined up before dawn Tuesday and crowded McDonald's restaurants across the region late into the afternoon on the restaurant chain's national hiring day.
The fast-food chain hoped to hire 50,000 employees for its more than 14,000 U.S. locations, including about 600 employees at its 165 sites in the Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto area Tuesday.
That averages to less than three jobs per outlet nationally, although some local sites said they were planning to hire as many as 15.
McDonald's didn't have a complete count on how many applicants showed up Tuesday, but so many arrived on some local McDonald's doorsteps that restaurant owners were nearly overwhelmed.
"At one point, we had 120 people outside the door, but we were able to get all 120 interviewed," said Courtney Ristuben at her Citrus Heights location on Sunrise Boulevard and Old Auburn Road.
Halfway through her four-hour afternoon hiring session, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Ristuben and her team had seen 300 job seekers. She anticipated another 300 by dinner time.
"We've seen 15- and 16-year-olds looking for their first job to people 50, 55 and over, first-time high schoolers to 20 years' experience looking for anything we have to offer," Ristuben said.
It's a sobering sign of the times in Sacramento and across the country.
McDonald's and other fast-food chains, once a first job for teenagers, appear to be turning into an employer of more adults: The average age of a fast-food worker is 29.5, up from 22 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
For many older job seekers, a job with health benefits is as important as the paycheck. Medical insurance, prescription drug coverage, 401(k) retirement and educational assistance are offered at some McDonald's locations.
John Ritchey Jr., part owner of a McDonald's at Arden Way and Howe Avenue, had made his way through 35 interviewees Tuesday afternoon and 80 more were waiting for face time.
"We're committed to getting everybody down the list," he said.
Steve Ramirez, owner of a McDonald's at 8282 Laguna Blvd. in Elk Grove, anticipated as many as 300 applicants to fill five openings.
About 50 would-be employees, some of whom had been there for hours, were waiting by 11 a.m., and Ramirez started conducting interviews at that point, two hours earlier than their scheduled 1 p.m. start.
"It's going to be tough when it comes to making a decision," Ramirez said. "There are so many talented folks who are willing to work. I wish I had more jobs."
The scenes were repeated across the nation and throughout California, where unemployment remains stubbornly stuck at 12 percent.
The fast-food jobs looked particularly inviting in a Sacramento region where unemployment is 12.7 percent, and there's no sign that things will improve anytime soon.
That was punctuated by a report released Tuesday by the Business Forecasting Center at University of the Pacific. The report predicted more grim economic news for the region, noting that the "housing-dependent Sacramento economy remains the only area in Northern California still mired in recession."
Grim. Mired. Recession. The words have become synonymous with the economically battered region, and they resonated Tuesday.
"In a year where employment opportunities are limited, it's affected all ages and walks of life," said Jake Mossawir, a Sacramento-area McDonald's spokesman.
"The numbers of people looking for jobs is overwhelming, it runs the gamut," he said. "There's a wide range of stories of how they got here."
Nancy Blanchard of Elk Grove retired from her state job a year and a half ago after 34 years as an analyst, only to find out that "retirement doesn't pay for the food bill."
With two children in college and a car payment, Blanchard was at the Laguna Boulevard McDonald's, waiting for her name to be called.
Kheyland McNeil, a 17-year-old Franklin High School senior from Elk Grove, wants to become an engineer someday, but first things first.
"I really want to work at McDonald's. I want to get the experience and interact with people," he said.
McNeil might just get the chance. Ramirez, owner of the Laguna Boulevard location, was impressed.
"He looks you straight in the eye. He knows what he wants and that's exactly what we're looking for," Ramirez said.
And there was John Davis of Sacramento, on unemployment for nearly a year at 59 after a long ride in auto sales, succinctly summarizing the life of the Sacramento job seeker.
"They're not hiring or they're out of business," he said at the McDonald's at 30th and K streets. "First, you've got to find who's hiring, then you've got to be the one they pick."
A few minutes later, he sat down for an interview.
Depressing - but with all the attacks on unions and the working and middle classes, this will undoubtedly be the future for many of us.
59 years old, out of work for a year and interviewing at McDonald's with little chance of getting the job.