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Agencies helping jobless suddenly need employees

Sun., Dec. 14, 2008, midnight

Staffing needs rise with unemployment

DAYTON, Ohio – It seemed like an eternity – nine months spent applying for more than 30 jobs a week, cruising job fairs and searching the Web into the wee hours.

Lisa Lopez, a mother of three laid off from her longtime job as an account executive at a Florida bank, finally heard the words, “We’re hiring.” What she didn’t expect was who delivered the news: the unemployment department.

“I paused just to make sure I heard him correctly,” the 39-year-old Lopez said.

State agencies that distribute unemployment benefits and try to match the laid-off with an ever-shrinking pool of jobs are doing some hiring of their own. They increased overtime, expanded hours, and added telephone lines and computer terminals to try to keep up with a suddenly soaring demand for jobs as businesses cut costs to cope with sagging sales.

“It’s been bad real fast,” said Tom Fuller, spokesman for Oregon’s employment department. “We’ve seen a doubling of the number of people coming into our offices looking for work.”

With her benefits running out, a stressed-out Lopez called the Agency for Workforce Innovation, which processes unemployment claims in Florida. She has an autistic son and was worried about losing her home. Her voice began to crack as she told the worker how long she’d been looking for work.

“If you don’t mind working Saturdays,” he told her, “we’re hiring.”

Lopez is among the lucky ones.

Employers slashed 533,000 jobs in November – the most in 34 years – sending the unemployment rate to a 15-year high of 6.7 percent. About 1.9 million people have lost jobs in the past year, with two-thirds of those coming in the past three months.

In Arizona, unemployment claims have more than doubled over the past year. In the week ending Nov. 22, Florida received more than three times the number of claims it tallied for the same week in 2007.

The jobless rate in Ohio, hard hit by the decline in automaking and other manufacturing jobs, has been running more than half of a percentage point higher than the national rate.

The unemployed stream into the Job Center in Dayton. The four workers behind the counter register them, direct them to a bank of computers – often all in use by people searching for jobs online – and serve as counselors as wailing telephones also demand attention.

The clientele has changed from regulars looking for better jobs to first-timers who have suddenly lost career jobs, said Quindella Lynch, who has worked there for three years.

“Now what we have are people who have never been unemployed in their life,” she said. “They don’t understand. They’re scared to death.”

Lynch now takes to giving out her personal phone number to some of her customers. “Just call me, and we’ll talk through the tough day,” she tells them.


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