A difficult time for job-seekers

The Baltimore Sun

Finding a job during a recession has been trying for Christine Gales, who tried again yesterday by attending a job fair meant to evoke the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s anti-poverty message.

"It's up and down," said Gales, 31, who has been out of work since October and living at Night of Peace Family Shelter outside Randallstown with her 12-year-old daughter. "I feel like I'm making an achievement by going out and putting out my applications, but I get discouraged when I don't hear anything back."

Gales and hundreds of other job-seekers filled the St. Frances Academy Community Center's gymnasium for its career fair and job skills event, held every year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

That this year's event took place on the eve of President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration was not lost on the organizers or the job-seekers.

"It's a new year, a new president. It feels like stuff is going to happen," Gales said, despite the slow progress of her job search.

Ralph E. Moore Jr., director of the community center in East Baltimore, likes to point out that the March on Washington in 1963 was about jobs and freedom. Now another black man will be in charge of trying to improve the economic condition of all Americans, Moore said.

"I think the fact that so many people are here is a sign of how dire things are and how hopeful they are," said Moore, who started the job fair seven years ago to help residents of the economically depressed neighborhood just east of Mount Vernon.

U.S. job losses have reached a level not seen since the end of World War II, with 2.6 million jobs lost last year. The unemployment rate rose to 7.2 percent last month.

Baltimore resident Brandon Hardy, 24, was looking yesterday for a second job to supplement his income as a cashier and stock clerk at Harvest Fare Supermarket. Hardy was laid off from his job as a teller at Municipal Employees Credit Union eight months ago, he said.

"I know we're in a recession ... but people have families, and bills to pay," said Hardy, who recently moved in with his mother to save money.

Reflecting the worsening labor market, many more job-seekers and fewer employers attended yesterday's event. Participating businesses were hiring, though.

Humanim, a nonprofit human services agency in Columbia, is looking for direct-care counselors and information technology help staff, while insurer Aflac is hiring sales associates.

The event also featured workshops on resume writing and interviewing skills, while several nonprofits set up booths yesterday, handing out information about free job-counseling sessions and skills-training programs.

Felicia Wells, a program manager at GenesisJobs, which helps Marylanders find and train for work, said she has seen an increase in clients seeking the group's help in the past year. More than ever, job counselors are seeing unemployed people who are older and have more job experience and skills.

"People are desperate across the board," she said.

Elizabeth Burrell, 51, of Pikesville has been out of work since November when she was laid off after 25 years at Solo Cup Co., the maker of food and beverage containers, which has a plant in Owings Mills.

Burrell said she has gotten one response from a potential employer after sending out numerous applications.

"It hits you to see the amount of people out there looking for employment," she said, noting that she has attended a few job fairs in recent months.

Like several job-seekers, Burrell said she remains hopeful that the new year will bring better economic conditions, especially as Obama and Congress work on an economic recovery plan.

"I know the president-elect has a lot on his plate. It would be great if he could boost the economy. I believe he could accomplish that, but not right away," she said.

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