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Wanted: A job

Gone are the days when willing workers can leave one job and walk into another within days. The recently declared, year-old economic recession closed the door on such moves.

No one bothered to tell Suzy Wampler or Cindy Bain.

Wampler has been looking for a teaching job since she was pink-slipped by Fayette County Public Schools in June. Bain has been looking for a manufacturing job since she lost her job at Amazon.com in September.

"I never thought I would be in this position," Wampler said as she waited Tuesday to see an unemployment representative at the Central Kentucky Job Center. "When I got the pink slip, I thought I'd find another job, no problem.

"My mom said, 'Are you worried?' I said, 'No. It's July 1. If it was Aug. 1, I'd be panicking,'" she recalled. "Well, Aug. 1 came, and I panicked."

Bain thought finding another job would be easy, too.

"I waited over a month before filing for employment," Bain said. "I thought I could find a job pretty quick. I always had before."

That was before the United States sank into its 11th recession since World War II. This one might become our longest.

The National Bureau of Economic Research says this recession started last December. According to its statistics, two previous recessions, in 1973-75 and 1981-82, each lasted 16 months. There are no signs that this recession will end within the next four months, so it probably will surpass the others in length.

According to numbers released Friday, non-farm jobs in the United States were cut by 533,000 in November. Experts think the losses will continue for several more months.

Justine Detzel, chief labor market analyst for the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training, said the state unemployment rate that is not seasonally adjusted was 6.2 percent for October. That was down from September's rate of 6.7 percent but 0.1 percent higher than the national figure in October.

In Fayette County, unemployment was 4.6 percent, down 0.5 percent. It was tied with Livingston County for the lowest rate in the state.

During the same period last year, Kentucky's jobless rate was 4.8 percent and Fayette County's was 3.4.

For Fayette County, that means 5,127 people were looking for work in 2007 and 6,977 are looking this year.

The figures for November won't be released until later this month.

There's something to keep in mind with those numbers: The people being counted are only those who have actively looked for a job during the previous four weeks, Detzel said. Those who have given up the job hunt or who don't go through the employment office aren't counted.

Detzel said Kentucky has the 16th-highest unemployment rate of all states, with the loss of jobs in the manufacturing and automobile industry doing us in.

"The industry that is most stable," she said, "is health care. We have an aging population. That is the one sector in Fayette County that has grown, other than repair and maintenance."

She said there were 300 more jobs in education and health care in Fayette County during the past year.

From $40,000 to $10,000

For Wampler, 35, a former social studies teacher at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, those new education jobs aren't in her field. She's been on five interviews and has a couple of leads that might play out in the new year.

"I went all the way to Boyle County for a job interview," she said. "I have got almost a doctorate in history and two master's degrees, and I'm just kind of hanging out now."

Wampler taught at the college level for seven years, but earned a master's degree in secondary social studies to teach in high school.

When she saw the headline declaring a recession, "I said, 'Wow. Thank you, Captain Obvious," Wampler said. "All you have to do is come to the unemployment office.

"I didn't lose my job because of the recession, but I'm wondering if I can't find a job because of the recession."

Her income has dropped from about $40,000 a year to about $10,000 for six months.

Her husband is self-employed, so she was forced to get a temporary health insurance policy for herself and sign up for the Kentucky Children's Health Insurance Program for her 5-year-old daughter.

KCHIP provides free or low-cost health insurance for children younger than 19 who do not have health coverage and whose family income is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

If Wampler doesn't get an extension, she is scheduled to receive only two more checks.

Living at home again

Bain, 49, lost her job in September because she had exceeded the number of days off that Amazon.com allows, she said.

After working there for about two years, she began in January the process to gain custody of her newborn granddaughter. The court dates, home evaluations and doctor's visits were unavoidable, she said. She won full custody in August. She lost her job a month later.

She had been laid off before, from Fruit of the Loom in Frankfort, where she had worked for 14 years. That period of unemployment lasted six weeks before she found a job at Wade Ceramics in Winchester, where she worked about three years. She later worked at Sav-a-Lot for seven years.

About six months ago, she moved to Lexington to help care for her 84-year-old father, who has Alzheimer's disease; that's along with caring for her new daughter.

"After about a month of getting on the computer looking for a job, I came here," she said. "Employers say 'we can use you and we'll call you back in a couple of days,' but you never hear anything. I'm not used to sitting at home."

Bain said she is surviving on unemployment benefits. "I'm living with Daddy. His house is paid for," she said. "I just have to worry about my car payment and insurance.

"I don't have health insurance, and the baby is on the medical card. I get food stamps, but that is all I can get."

She said employers are offering only part-time work, which even with assistance doesn't cover the expenses of child care.

"I want a 40-hour-a-week job with good insurance and benefits that I can rely on," Bain said. "Something that can help me pay bills and help me get on my feet."

They want to work

Jessica Vilchis, 24, has a different kind of problem. She has a job, but it is only part-time. She wants full-time employment so she can get a bigger apartment and reunite with her two children, who live with her mother in Georgia.

"I've been looking for a cashier job for three or four months or longer," she said Tuesday, her first day at the job center.

After applying at fast-food restaurants and gas stations with no results, she came to the job center.

The Lexington center is one of four Central Kentucky Job Centers that serve 17 counties as part of a one-stop system that connects job seekers with employers and employment information and training. Each center houses various agencies that can be of assistance to adults, youth, and unemployed workers.

Created by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, one-stop career centers can house government and private agencies that provide unemployment benefits, skills assessment and training, job referrals, basic adult education and résumé assistance.

The wait can be long, but Vilchis didn't have much else to do. "This is my first time here," she said. "I am bilingual and I have computer skills and typing skills, but I haven't been able to get a full-time job."

The story was no different with Stephanie Walker, 42, a minister in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

She was laid off about six weeks ago from her job as an office assistant with an insurance agent. She had worked in the insurance industry for 13 years.

Walker quickly found work with Barack Obama's presidential campaign in Cincinnati; while there, she lived with the regional bishop of the C.M.E. church.

"It's tough," she said. "I am very thankful for good friends. They lend me money and give me money so I can pay my bills. I have to give thanks to God for them."

She'd like to get a job with a church that would let her continue outreach work, an area she discovered she loved while working in Cincinnati.

"Something in urban renewal," she said. "I saw hardship in Cincinnati. People are hopeless. It was an experience."

Walker was at the center because her check had been delayed because of a glitch in the system. "I can probably fix it for them," she said. "I used to do that kind of thing. I could probably do a lot of paperwork for them, too."

Signs to look for

Though things aren't very upbeat now, Detzel, the labor market analyst, said we can keep an eye out for signs of change.

"Usually before the economy gets better, we will see a rise in the number of temporary workers being hired," she said. "That is a good sign. We are going to have to see some stabilization in the housing market, no foreclosures and housing prices going back up.

"There has to be a return of consumer confidence," Detzel said. "Consumers are two-thirds of the economic activity."

She said the recession has closed the wallets of not just the middle class but also those at upper income levels.

So what about her? As an economic expert, will she be spending more to aid the economy?

"No," she said. "I have to balance my budgets, too."

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