Jobless in San Diego: Numbers Keep Going Up

Finding work in a bear market becomes a full-time job for many

More than 100,000 laid-off workers throughout San Diego County got an early holiday present Thursday when Congress approved extending unemployment benefits for 13 weeks -- that, at the urging of President Bush, who's expected to quickly ratify the legislation.

Many more San Diegans are jobless without benefits, not even figuring into the local unemployment rate of 6.4 percent, up from 4.8 percent a year ago.

During the 12 months ending in September, nearly 7,000 local construction jobs disappeared.   Almost 4,000 jobs in the region's hospitality and leisure industry were lost in September alone, after five straight months of increases.

Serious job seekers are crowding the South Metro Career Center and five other such faclities run countywide by the state Employement Development Department.

Counselors give guidance and training on resume and computer skills, and run a registry that lists 6,000 local job openings an an effort to connect job seekers with employers.

"At this point I'm looking for labor work, and various computer skills that they're offering me here," said unemployed job seeker Rolf Graner.

 "I just have hopes for this place.  I'm about 40 years old and I have to be doing something with my life about now."

As the supply of jobs dries up, those on the demand side are facing increased competition for what's left.

"Sometimes I'll pull the job off the Internet, print it up, and I'll go in and just do a walk-in,” Tommy Shook, another unemployed job seeker. "Sometimes it's just better for them to see you. They don't know who you are over the computer."

A lot of job seekers find permanent work by starting out as 'temps', according Manpower Staffing Services co-founder Phil Blair.

"Of all of our temporaries, 42 percent of them are hired (permanently) by our customers," Blair said in an interview.  "Because the customer's going, 'I'm ready to hire staff'.  And they hire five of the temps:  'They've been doing a fabulous job for us."

A former Manpower 'temp' permanently hired by the firm is Dolores Almendarez, who now serves as a training assistant.

"What we notice is, a lot of employers don't want to hire someone if they've been out of work for awhile," Almendarez notes.  "It's like, 'Do I want to take a chance, a risk, on this new person'?"

Nancy Fain, an office worker who's been jobless for two years, knows about that reluctance first-hand.  She's grown weary of the interview process.

"You're sitting there talking to somebody thinking, 'My God, is the interview going to go on forever'?" Fain said in an interview.

"Or you're sitting there thinking, 'Oh, God, pick me, pick me."

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