Job seekers face growing challenges

Barbara Bilewicz has been out of work since 2007, when Ellis Hospital merged with St. Clare’s Hospit

Barbara Bilewicz has been out of work since 2007, when Ellis Hospital merged with St. Clare’s Hospital and her job in the business office at Ellis was cut.

In March, she graduated from a job readiness class sponsored by the Schenectady Community Action Program, and once a week she visits SCAP’s Albany Street headquarters, where she receives encouragement and job tips. She estimates that she’s sent out at least 30 resumes since March.

“It’s been difficult,” Bilewicz said. “I’m an older worker, and I’ve been to many interviews. I get the impression that in these economic times, because I have a lot of experience and they’re going to have to pay me more, that businesses would prefer to hire an entry-level person who doesn’t have as much experience.”

Capital Region native Karl Berner lost his job, at a CVS/Caremark in Knoxville, Tenn., in September and returned home to search for work. He’s been getting leads and advice from the career and employment services office at Schenectady County Community College.

“It’s been a challenge,” Berner said. “It’s pretty tough times. I heard UPS was hiring part-time, seasonal people, and when I went up to interview I saw a lot of people who are looking for work. I see a lot of people who are down and out, and I really feel for them.”

Berner and Bilewicz are not unique.

Unemployment is on the rise, and more than 10 million Americans are currently searching for work. More than 1.2 million jobs have been lost so far this year, as the country reels from a meltdown on Wall Street brought on by the collapse of the subprime housing industry. Though the number of jobless people in the Capital Region has increased, the area’s unemployment rate is actually better than the state and U.S. averages.

better than most

Statistics released Thursday by the New York State Department of Labor showed that the unemployment rate for Albany, Schenectady, Troy, Saratoga and Schoharie counties is 4.9 percent, up from 3.6 percent last October. Statewide, the unemployment rate is 5.5 percent, and nationally it is 6.1 percent. The only city in New York with a lower unemployment rate than the Capital Region is Ithaca. Even so, the Capital Region’s unemployment rate for October is at a 16-year high.

“Our unemployment rate is higher, but it’s not nearly as bad as elsewhere,” said state Labor Department market analyst James Ross. He said the Capital Region tends to do better during economic downturns because of its “industrial mix,” which includes a high number of jobs in three areas that tend to be stable: government, health care and education. “Those areas are much less prone to the ups and downs of the business cycle,” he said. “In a recession, we look very good.”

In October, the Capital Region’s unemployment rate actually dropped — it was up over 5 percent earlier this fall — but Ross said it’s better to compare year-to-year data, rather than month to month, because the state Labor Department adjusts data to account for the ebbs and flows that occur in the labor market throughout the year. For instance, unemployment typically decreases during the holidays, as retailers and other businesses hire seasonal workers.

In the Mohawk Valley, unemployment dropped below 7 percent. Fulton County’s unemployment is 6.8 percent, while Montgomery County’s rate fell to 6.4 percent.

Agencies that provide job assistance are seeing an increase in the number of newly jobless people coming in for help.

jobless ranks swell

At the Schenectady Community Action Program, which provides a range of services to low-income Schenectady County residents, the number of unemployed clients is climbing, as is the number of clients who are working but finding it difficult to make ends meet.

“We’re seeing a bigger percentage of people who are looking to re-enter the work force,” said Chari Jones, director of SCAP’s career readiness program, which teaches people job search skills such as interviewing techniques and resume writing. Last year, 119 people who contacted SCAP to ask about the program qualified for it; this year, that number jumped to 217.

The majority of people enrolled in the career readiness program are women, but Jones said that the program has started to draw more out-of-work and underemployed men. “Our last six months, we’ve seen quite an increase in men,” she said.

Nancy DeLissio, program director for the Schenectady County Job Training Center, which runs the One Stop Career Counseling Center in Center City, estimated that the number of people seeking job assistance from the One Stop Center had climbed about 10 percent.

“We have an increase, but it hasn’t been tremendous,” she said. “The main thing we’re hearing from people when they come in is, ‘I need a job.’ If they were laid off, they need to gain employment because they have bills. They’re concerned about their personal economic situation.”

The One Stop Center sponsors free workshops on a variety of topics, such as a how to make a good first impression and how to network, and provides career counseling, access to computers and a phone. Employers can contact the One Stop Center looking for workers.

Schenectady County Community College provides free career help to students and alumni. Robert Frederick, coordinator of career and employment services, said the number of laid-off and underemployed alumni seeking assistance started climbing at the end of summer and early fall. “We’re seeing more of that population,” he said. He said it’s getting more difficult for people to find a job. “More people are out there that you weren’t competing with before,” he said. “It’s a much more competitive situation out there. People had better broaden their capabilities of what they can do. We try to help them expand their search.”

personal decisions

Berner, 45, attended Schenectady County Community College in the 1980s and eventually earned his bachelor’s degree in studio art from The College of Saint Rose. He then went into the Navy, where he worked as a still photographer, before getting a job with the 109th Airlift Wing in Scotia and then with the Air National Guard Training and Education Center in Tennessee. After his 20 years in the military were up, he held a variety of civilian jobs and was working as a customer care representative at a CVS/Caremark in Knoxville when he was laid off in September.

“I was planning to stay there,” Berner said. “But I think they wanted fresh people.”

Berner, who grew up in Scotia and is living in Amsterdam, decided to move home to look for a job and has been in the area for about three weeks. He said he’s optimistic. “I’ve been using the library and career center,” he said. “I went to a veterans job fair.” He has applied for a job at the Beech-Nut baby food plant, which is moving from Canajoharie to the town of Florida, and at the new Target in Amsterdam.

Bilewicz lost her job in 2007, right about the time her 26-year-old son was in a near-fatal car accident; though he has since healed and is working again, he spent several months in intensive care at Albany Medical Center Hospital. Bilewicz helped care for him, and when his health improved, she decided it was time to look for work. She enrolled in the career readiness class at the Schenectady Community Action Program. “I needed full-time work, or more hours,” said Bilewicz, who earns some money doing part-time medical billing.

Bilewicz had worked at Ellis Hospital for 16 years, and the career readiness class helped her brush up on her computer skills and learn Microsoft Word. “They were very helpful,” she said. “When you’ve been out of work for awhile, you feel very discouraged. I suffered from some self-esteem issues. I hadn’t gone on an interview in over 16 years. There have been a lot of changes with computers and in the workplace.”

Like Berner, Bilewicz is aware that a lot of people are looking for work. “Often when I go on an interview, I’m told after the interview that they have several or many candidates applying for the job,” she said. “I went to Time Warner, and there must have been 100 prospective employees waiting in a room.”

But she was also optimistic. “I get encouragement when I come to SCAP,” Bilewicz said. “Everyone at SCAP says that there’s a job out there for me and that it takes time. They want me to stick with it and they keep my hopes up.”

the whole story?

The number of jobs in the Capital Region has remained relatively flat during the past year, with the non-farm private sector actually adding 200 jobs, Ross said.

Many of those gains occurred in education and health services, which added 1,300 jobs, and professional and business services, adding about 1,200 jobs. Much of that growth was in health, scientific and technical services.

Several industries sustained job losses, and those industries tended to be consumer-driven, Ross said. Leisure and hospitality lost a total of 700 jobs, with losses in food services — about 1,400 jobs — offset by gains in other areas, such as recreation. The wholesale and retail trades lost about 900 jobs, mainly because “people are spending less money,” Ross said. Construction and manufacturing also suffered minor losses.

Ross said that so far this recession seems to be having a greater impact on the Capital Region’s low-wage workers.

Jones suggested that the unemployment numbers are actually worse than reported because people who are unemployed for longer than 13 weeks are generally not included in the official tally.

“We have way more unemployed people,” Jones said. “The statistics really make me laugh. So many people have fallen off the radar.”

Last week Congress approved legislation to extend unemployment checks for at least another seven weeks to a million or more laid off American workers whose benefits are running out.

Categories: Schenectady County

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