Job seeker: ‘It’s the worst I’ve ever seen’

Economy has taken a toll on Charles Walton, others using JobConnect’s services

Charles Walton of Las Vegas at Nevada Job Connect on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011.

Charles Walton

Charles Walton of Las Vegas sits down with employment representative Heather Brown at Nevada Job Connect on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Charles Walton has about $100 to his name. No job, few prospects, an unreliable car and a bus pass to get to the occasional job interview.

His safety net: in-laws who gave him a place to live after his wife left him, taking his two young daughters.

A recent morning had Walton, 48, searching for leads at the Nevada JobConnect office on Maryland Parkway, scouring the employment listings with Heather Brown, an employment representative.

Brown sat Walton in her cubicle, where they spent an hour poring over 310 job openings (minimum-wage work to $40,000-a-year marketing positions) and updating his resume, removing experience past 10 years to focus on more relevant experience for the jobs Walton was seeking.

Walton, who has a high school diploma, worked a number of jobs over the past decade — mail sorter at the post office, guest room attendant at Aria, greeter selling time shares, janitor and newspaper deliverer. It has been tough through boom times and economic collapse.

“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen,” said Walton, a Southern California native. “When I moved here in ’96, the second day I was here I had a job.”

Because he’s black, Walton faces even longer odds. In August, the U.S. unemployment rate for African Americans was nearly 17 percent, almost double the overall unemployment rate.

Walton was one of 1,800 job seekers, many of them repeat customers, to walk through JobConnect’s doors in the past two weeks. The program is offered by the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, informally known as the state employment division.

“It seems like things are getting worse,” said Brown, worrying the valley might be slipping back into recession. “It’s just really tough.”

From Brown’s cubicle, job seekers could be overheard meeting with her co-workers at adjacent desks. One person spoke of having worked on Wall Street; another was a laid-off educator. Unemployed doctors, lawyers and construction workers have come in search of work. A recent graduate of a prestigious law school told Brown that he had two resumes — one that lists his full educational background, one that doesn’t, fearing that his advanced degree might scare off potential employers.

No matter their previous professions, degrees or awards, many job seekers are struggling to maintain their confidence and sense of purpose in a state where nearly 200,000 people are unemployed. An equal number of people are estimated to have jobs but are working fewer hours than they want to, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Right now things are really tough out there,” Walton said. “I would accept a job working as a guest room attendant. That’s tough work, hard work, but I’d do it.”

He lost his Aria job after struggling to clean 13 rooms during an eight-hour shift. Brown steered him to job openings at off-Strip hotels with smaller, potentially less-demanding rooms. He’s applied elsewhere with no luck.

“Most of the time I don’t get any return calls,” he said. “It’s like you really have to know somebody to find work.”

Brown is patient with Walton and other clients. She discusses strategies and notes the availability of the office’s 17 computers, which clients can use to apply for work. A significant number of people seeking employment don’t have a computer, Internet access or the skills to use them. A JobConnect staffer helps customers with those challenges, while several local nonprofit organizations offer free computer classes.

There are other challenges hurting some job-seekers’ ability to find work.

JobConnect representatives have heard from potential employers who say a significant number of job candidates fail drug tests. “Many of them tell us that’s a problem,” Brown said.

Employers also say a sizable number of applicants have credit scores in the low 500s, well-below the threshold needed to qualify for work. “How do you have a good credit score if you have don’t a job to pay your bills?” Brown asks.

The job market is filled with qualified applicants who are willing to do most anything to pay their bills and regain their self-confidence, which so many define by the jobs they hold. Competition is stiff. “I’ve noticed employers are expecting a lot more (of applicants) and are paying a lot less,” Brown said.

As for Walton, he remains committed to finding a job, but as he struggles to make that happen, he believes business and political leaders lack an understanding of what the average person is facing as the recession enters its fourth year.

“They don’t realize what people are going through right now,” he said. “People need work. People need jobs. When they have jobs they can buy cars, homes, put money in the bank, but they really can’t do anything without jobs. … Right now I feel like our lives are on hold.”

Business

CORRECTION: The original version of the story incorrectly stated that Charles Walton's children lived with him. He is separated from his wife, with whom the children live. | (October 5, 2011)

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  1. Totally agreed with Walton about employers not understanding what anyone is going through. Either for the unemployed, but especially for the currently employed as well. When the economy tanked, companies had to go into "Survival Mode" and essentially had to modify their operations to learn how to do more with less by increasing the job load on existing employees. It was a great way to cut expenses in order to get by, and employee responses were that they were very eager to help the company in order to ultimately save their own jobs.

    Fast Forward about 4 years to where we are now. What was initially a survival tactic in an emergency financial situation has now become a profit engine. What has happened is that companies studied their monetary savings by these procedures and just decided to leave them in place. Given the amount of work accomplished, divided by the hours paid out at work, and you realize that employees have essentially learned to work for less since the price of labor has been driven down by this tactic. It's a very vicious circle too since rather than hire on extra people to accommodate the workload to pre-crisis standards, employers are keeping staff levels low and they keep increasing the workload that existing employees have to do. In the mean time this labor model is paying out huge financial dividends to companies who really have no actual incentive to stop it. At least not yet anyways.

    Not just physically, but psychologically a human worker can only take so much stress. Certainly you won't get 100% efficiency throughout a given workday (i.e. working every single second). People pause to get up for a beverage, to stretch, and to quickly socialize, and this is necessary for peoples' health. Just like the heart has to slow down at times to rest it self, so do people. Companies are burning people out. It's a bad long-term strategy because with no new employees to balance the workload, they don't get a chance to learn the ropes. So when people leave jobs as will eventually happen for a whole host of reasons, there will be no one there to take over, and job quality will greatly suffer.

  2. The other aspect of why it's so hard to find employment in this current job market is related to Human Resources departments in most corporations. HR people have certain rolls to do, most of which relates to being the conscience of a company in regards to compliance with procedures, as well as payroll functions, etc. All of this most do very well, except when it comes to Recruitment. This is where HR people grossly fail and force the company as a whole to fall right on their face. Most HR recruiters have minimal to absolutely no knowledge of the jobs they recruit for. If you do get through to one and they ask about your experience, you're almost sure to leave them flabbergasted. Especially if the topic becomes technical in nature related to electronics or machinery. As such the human element has been removed almost entirely from the screening process. HR Recruiters rely more upon scanning for keywords that they include in the job description, than they do actually reading what you've written and interpreting if you're a good candidate. It actually defeats the entire purpose of a resume. As a result both companies and job seekers are suffering from this as good candidates can easily be overlooked, and employers end up "settling" for someone else whose core competencies don't match up as well.

    So if you see a job you want, read the posting for it and identify the keywords within. Then tweak you resume to contain them. You'll start getting calls.

  3. "As for Walton, he remains committed to finding a job, but as he struggles to make that happen, he believes business and political leaders lack an understanding of what the average person is facing as the recession enters its fourth year."

    Walton's right on this point. I'm going through the next step of the municipal court ticket process this morning. Stepping into that courthouse is like stepping into another planet, starting with the totally unreasonable searches. I have a friend with a $1,200 ticket for a cracked windshield she can't pay -- funny how rent, groceries and gas come first, especially when the fine is not only reasonable, but the court refused to accept her reasonable payment offer. It's clear the prime reason for this corporate court to exist is to keep the money flowing from us to feed their machine.

    My point is like Walton's -- the lack of respect this government has for ordinary people just trying their best to get by another day. For those sucking on the public teat, our best just seems to never be good enough. These parasites all seem to forget their job security depends entirely on our sufferance.

    Time to pay attention to what they're doing to us, people!

    "try seattle or portland."

    dipstick -- I'm from Portland. It's worse there than it is here. At least Vegas has the Strip and Nellis driving the local economy. Portland has no major employers at all, except government which just keeps getting bigger no matter how bad off the people are.

    "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are 'I'm from your government. I'm here to help.'" -- the late President Ronald Reagan

  4. "He lost his Aria job after struggling to clean 13 rooms during an eight-hour shift."

    That computes to an average of 36.92 minutes per room. That does not sound like a strong work ethic to me. If I had two young daughters to support I would make sure I did everything possible to keep my employer happy. He lost a good job with great benefits because of himself, not because of the economy.

  5. @ TomD1228:

    Thanks for the comment. I was told that if I wasn't happy with my job that I could just leave, and was then reminded that there were no job prospects in Vegas. Couple that with no internal job growth because no other departments were allowed to expand staff and it just became a no-win situation for career growth. So when I tendered my resignation people were shocked that someone was infact willing to leave. Aside from resentment from my departure because they knew management would fight my replacement resulting in increased workloads for everyone else, there was also alot of confessed envy that I was able to just walk away and not have to play these games.

    What I can definately tell you about Bernake and others who claim that things are getting better is the scale in which they are measuring improvement. Ever seen those houses on the TV show "Hoarders" that are filled with garbage? No one would argue that those are deplorable living conditions. However when you look at it from a cockroaches' point of view, it's a bountiful paradise with almost limitless prosperity and growth opprotunity. Same with our economy. It's had a fantastic recovery, but only from a banker's point of view. Measuring the Quality of Living for your average American and it's just getting worse.

    @BagDad:
    That was actually the idea of SS since it's inception to be unobtainable to most people by setting the collection age past the average life span. Nothing new there.

    @mkman:
    We're in total agreement. Left Vegas in June. I loved Nevada itself, but Vegas for me is gone since most everyone else I knew had already jumped ship. It's paradise lost to me. Wife worked for a casino. She contacted an old boss out of state and in less than a week had a job offer for double what she was making here for the same line of work. Since we've moved I myself have been bombarded by unsolicited job offers, and have had the luxury of declining offers because they didn't pay enough. There are TONS of jobs outside of Vegas just waiting to be had. One just has to be able to get out, which is the real hard part.

  6. Las Vegas was once a utopia of low-skilled and blue-collar jobs.
    Those jobs have since been devoured by illegal immigrants.

    It is appalling that this poor man cannot get a job, while this city's labor force is literally exploding with illegal aliens who have infested every possible industry - taking the jobs that used to be a lifeline for America's unskilled and less-educated workers including minorities, teens, the poor and the elderly.

  7. @mkman:

    BINGO! That was one of the largest factors in our relocating and leaving Las Vegas. As I said, my employer had no openings in other departments. You would see people leave, but they refused to hire replacement workers. There is too much stagnation. As such the worry was that what happens if I lose my job? Be it my fault, or though no fault of my own, what was I going to do? That alone is what prevented us from buying a house. I couldn't in good faith promise to take on a 30, or even a 15 year mortgage not knowing if I was going to have a steady income be it with that employer, or another so that I could make good on my promise to pay back the money we borrowed. It was too much of a gamble. We waited things out to see if the economy would improve, and while it did for businesses, none of it trickled down to regular people in the form of job security at all. So with Vegas refusing to offer us what we needed, we left.

    As a quick aside though, there is however one thing that has been bothering me about these stories of job seekers who can't find work. I can understand not being able to afford a computer, let alone internet access. But there is absolutely no excuse to not have basic computer skills. Not when Clark County Library District offers free classes to teach everything from basic computer skills, to advanced applications like Microsoft Office Suite including Word, Excel, and Power Point. Walking is free, and bus fare is a VERY cheap price to pay in order to get access to these classes.

  8. The media is finally picking up on a very real reality to those that are unemployed are looked at as TOXIC assets. No look at the situations that put them in this position, just that if you are unemployed something is wrong with YOU. I would agree that HR people fall into this same trap, they see a gap - they look at the person as a problem. Not that so many who did their jobs and fell into the trap where a Las Vegas business can say - we got everything from them - lets now hire someone who makes $30 K less to take their place. This recession has hurt the middle and low end of the top earners more than at any time before. The state will say - get retrained? Why, these people are good at what they do and why should they leave their industries to start out at the bottom all over again.

    Tax cuts for companies to hire long term unemployed - sorry but HR people don't want to look at those people. People are better served to figure out ANY way to make it look like they are working and try to get a job. Then HR people will look at you, which is wrong and flat out discriminates against the unemployed. Those in power now have created a larger gap in business by taking out those in the middle and now having junior people with less experience underneath them. Creates a much safer work environment for them as none of these people have the talent or experience to push them for upward advancement.

    Say what you want about being a "right to work" state - but this time this labor clause has been exploited. Congress is not going to pass anything significant. State government, look at the largest donors - several who seem to make the news daily with their employee lawsuits.

  9. The citizens of the United States of America, have been duped, scammed, and made hostage to corporations. They can discriminate and violate all decency and the government turns a blind eye to it, or worse, helps them! Just look at recent history with WALL STREET or the resignation of corrupt political leaders. They don't care, because no one will hold them accountable. NO ONE, until OCCUPY WALL STREET has begun to spring up in cities near you to protest this travesty.

    Also, to add to the list already mentioned, are those who find themselves UNemployed due to their AGE! It is a LAW, not to discriminate due to "age" but it is happening to millions of qualified, proven competent, and efficient older American employees. But the bottom line is that they can cost more for an organization/company to keep, so they get targetted, and soon become a growing part of the UNemployed statistics, finding it next to impossible to procure another position quickly due to age.

    Our country seems to have lost its values in favor for the almighty dollar bottom line. Our mentality has put youth on a pedestal and have forgotten our older folks who put in the time, sacrifices, and blazed many trails for those who follow. Older workers have earned their paychecks, put in the time, education, and experience. Older workers should receive respect and be honored for a lifetime of faithful service. Instead, they are now being targets of age discrimination!

    Might I suggest, for those who wish to avoid gaps in employment experience, that they use their "down time" as volunteers doing work for worthy organizations as their local PTA at a school near them. There are plenty of jobs within the PTA to choose from to do volunteer work, you can keep fresh on skills, or learn and apply new skills by volunteering to work with them. Now, more than ever, due to school budget cuts, does educational organizations need the extra volunteer help. It will do YOU good and THEM good.
    Blessings and Peace, Star