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Wednesday, 25 March 2009 21:01

Job hunt gets harder under double digit unemployment

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Sitting in the Job Link site in Sylva looking for jobs on a computer database, Kathleen Codon of Cullowhee hit on something promising — a posting for a construction project manager.

Jobs like those are rare these days with the recession driving construction down.

Cordon said she’ll apply for the job but she’s cautiously optimistic since she’s sent out 50 to 60 resumes to no avail during her two months without a job.

January unemployment rates for the area were released by the Employment Security Commission last week with almost every county in the double digits.

Cordon was working for a construction firm until she got laid off. She has been doggedly searching for a job since by e-mailing resumes and going to construction sites in person to ask for work.

“I’ll speak to whoever is willing to talk to me,” she said.

While visiting family in New York City and Miami she also searched for jobs but didn’t have any luck.

However, Cordon may have gotten a job by now if she weren’t too picky in wanting a supervisory position. She said she didn’t get a bachelor’s degree in construction management just so she could sit in an office and do secretarial work.

“I need something more than that,” she said. “I have too much energy to sit still.”

Fortunately she is in a position where she can hold out and look for the job she desires rather than settling for something that will pay the bills. With her husband employed as an administrator at Western Carolina University, they have the income to cover the necessities.

That doesn’t mean everything is OK with her being out of work. She can’t do many of the things she enjoys like traveling and buying nice clothes. She recently decided to apply for unemployment benefits after holding out for a while thinking she would land a job.

“I didn’t think I would be unemployed this long,” she said.

The construction sector has taken a big hit in Jackson County, said Ann Howell, branch manager of the Employment Security Commission office in Sylva. Macon County, which also relies heavily on the construction of second homes as a big industry, has also seen huge declines in that area.

T&S Hardwoods in Sylva has announced it will cease operation in May, taking with it 76 jobs. ConMet in Swain County has also had significant layoffs, Howell said. The Evergreen paper mill in Canton cut 40 positions this month.

 

No jobs available

The job search has become too depressing, said Tony Wykle of Macon County.

“What’s the point of looking for something that’s not there?” he asked. “It’s spring and jobs should be popping up everywhere, but they’re not.”

The fast food restaurants and housekeeping jobs aren’t even available now, said Janet Wykle, Tony’s wife.

John Short has worked at the Macon Employment Security Commission for 26 years and said now may be the worst he’s seen.

Many of the jobs available are nurse positions, which many aren’t qualified for, Short said. Other than that there’s not much available so all the ESC can do for people is set them up with unemployment benefits.

Stephanie Adams of Franklin was also at the Macon County ESC last week, with both herself and her fiancée unemployed. He was laid off in December from his construction job.

Stephanie said it is normally standing room only at the ESC. She and her fiancée are surviving with the help of family, church and CareNet — a non-profit agency that helps people who are struggling financially. To make matters even more stressful, Stephanie is seven months pregnant.

“We’re struggling,” she said. “Depending on other people is horrible.”

For her maternity clothes he had to go to CareNet and wait in long lines, she said.

The hope is that with spring arriving more construction work will become available, she said. But she is not optimistic that the recession will end soon, adding that she thinks the government is doing a poor job of trying to help the situation.

Bonnie Phillips, a secretary at the Macon County ESC, overheard Adams and said the economic problems go beyond the government, saying the world is in the “end times” and “Jesus is our only hope.”

Robert Souther sat at a table at the ESC filling out a job application for a new Bojangles fast food restaurant coming to town. He lost his job as a cook at the Motor City Grill in Franklin and has been out of work since December.

Since then he has filled out “hundreds” of job applications for everything from “fast food to factory work.” There has been slim pickings, however, so he decided to use his time wisely and enroll at Southwestern Community College with the financial help of his family to learn about computer engineering so he can have more job skills when the economy rebounds.

As competitive as the job market is, Souther has an even bigger challenge finding a job with a felony conviction for bank robbery on his record.

Being unemployed is tough on a man’s soul, Souther said.

“You feel useless,” Souther said. “It’s frustrating. You tighten your belt up and do what you’ve got to do.”

Luckily his wife has a job at Drake Software that keeps the family, which includes two children ages 16 and 18, above water.

People may just go back to growing their on food and using the barter system, said Souther.

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