Jennifer Prosa stood patiently in a line of at least 300 people, with each person waiting just to get inside a job fair Wednesday at the Baltimore Convention Center.
"I probably should have gotten here earlier," said the 27-year-old Severn resident as she surveyed the hundreds of hungry job-seekers ahead of her.
If there is any telltale sign of growing unemployment woes in this deepening recession, look no further than recent job fairs across the country and in the Baltimore region. Many have drawn thousands of laid-off workers and others in search of limited job openings. Maryland's unemployment reached a 16-year high in January of 6.2 percent, as the nation's rate hit 8.1 percent in February.
Still, Prosa was determined to find solid leads at the most recent job fair that she has attended in the past six months. After being laid off from her information technology job in 2007, Prosa said, she took time off to finish her degree in criminal justice. Since earning her diploma two months ago, she has been hitting the job fair circuit as well as looking for openings online and elsewhere to secure a post that combines her studies and IT experience.
"I'll go in there and do what I have to do," Prosa said. "I'm going to have a positive frame of mind. ... If you go in there and say, 'Oh my gosh, look at all those people,' employers will see that. You have to have confidence."
The Employment Guide, which posts jobs in print and online and sponsored Wednesday's job fair, has designed this year's events around the theme of Putting Americans Back to Work, said Howard Kershner, general manager of the Baltimore office. Demand and attendance are steadily growing as unemployment and other economic conditions worsen, he said. About 2,000 people attended Wednesday's event, up from 1,500 at a July job fair, Kershner said.
"There's an era of insecurity whether you have a job or you don't," he said.
As job-seekers mingled with more than 45 employers, including McCormick & Co., Coca-Cola and the Social Security Administration, other attendees waited an hour or more for their chance to make an impression. The line remained at least 200 people long throughout the event, and at one point it snaked around one entire level of the Convention Center.
Erwin Acree, 48, was at his first job fair in many years.
In December, the Baltimore resident said, he was laid off from a drywall manufacturer after 20 years, as the housing market continued to tank.
Meanwhile, his wife is also looking for a job. She was let go after 18 years at Solo Cup Co., a manufacturer of food and beverage containers, which ended production of hot cups and plastic lids at its Owings Mills plant in December.
"I've had to learn new job search skills," he said. "I'm old school; I'm used to going out to job sites. It's a new ball game.
"It's a been a steady, ongoing push with myself to continue to search for something," he said. "It's really bad out there. The job market is tight. But I'm very optimistic ... before this year's out to have gainful employment."
Prosa said she has not received one job offer after attending at least six fairs and having looked elsewhere for opportunities. But she's not done.
She has one or two more job fairs lined up. She sees the events as an opportunity for some face time with employers and a chance to present herself as someone who is serious about finding work.
"I feel pretty good. I got around and found out information on things that I may be interested in," Prosa said. "At least I didn't stand in line for two hours and there was nothing there."
COMING JOB FAIRS
March 30, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings hosts a job fair at the 5th Regiment Armory, 29th Division St., Baltimore.
April 2, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wireless company Crickett Communications Inc. is hiring for 100 positions.
Hyatt Regency, 300 Light St., Baltimore