By Susan Latiolait, EDN
In 2005 and 2006 Oregon residents saw unemployment rates hover around five percent. After the Great Recession of 2008, those numbers rose considerably. The Oregon Employment Department recorded Lane County’s highest unemployment rate at 11.6 percent in 2009. As of last month, Lane County percentages had dropped to equal Oregon’s average unemployment rate of 8.8 percent. But despite the numbers dropping, Lane County residents still struggle to find work.
Chuck Forster, Executive Director of Lane Workforce Partnership, believes that there are too few jobs in Lane County and that unemployment has been too high for too long. Forster has worked for Lane Workforce Partnership for 20 years, helping the community’s workforce. Forster says,
“[The Lane Workforce Partnership] works with employers to find new employees and help them retain those employees. We also help individuals who are looking for a better job, looking to find a new job, or looking for their first job. We work with them to help them hone their skills and sometimes provide training, so they are likely to be successful when looking for a job.”
The Lane Workforce Partnership has encountered more individuals coming to them in recent years. Forster estimates nearly 16,000 Lane County jobs have been lost since the 2008 recession. Young citizens are among one of the most crucial groups that have gotten hit. According to Forster, young people being unable to enter the workforce can have a serious affect on the economy. He explains,
“What the research shows is that, if you are in that 16 to 24 age group range and you don’t have the opportunity for work experience, … [you] may tend to be unemployed more frequently, [your] lifetime wages are less, and [you] may have social and personal challenges that people who are employed during that period of time in their life don’t have.”
Page Taylor, a senior at the University of Oregon, fits into the 16 to 24 age group. Over the last few years, Taylor has felt the recession’s impact on the job market.
Taylor actively looked for work using a variety of different approaches for nearly two years. She did so without any responses or interviews. It was only recently that she found employment as a delivery driver. Taylor says,
“I applied for jobs working in retail, as a barista, customer service, clerical work, food service, and a handful of other positions. My method for applying was turning in resumes to the store, applying for positions online, and responding to Craigslist and UO Joblink ads via email.”
While the unemployment rate in 2012 remains higher than it was prior to the recession at 8.8 percent, it has decreased from 2011 rates of 9.6 percent. Forster believes that this could be due to more jobs being created. But it also could be due to Lane County citizens getting frustrated and dropping out of the workforce. And it probably will not get much better for the time being: Despite some slight improvements, Forster thinks that unemployment will hover around 8 percent for the next few years. However, he always has hope for statistical improvements and believes that for numbers to improve, it all comes down to job growth. Forster says,
“Jobs are critical. We need jobs. And we need quality jobs. We have seen a huge loss in manufacturing jobs. Manufacturing jobs are disappearing. Jobs that are coming back tend to be lower-paying service jobs. Those are important jobs as it would be a challenge to have a prosperous economy [without them]. But we need more jobs that pay higher wages with higher benefits.”
Although some jobs sectors are hiring, some individuals need to improve their skill-sets. Tests of the 11,000 people who last year went through Worksource Lane Job Center (an alliance of different workforce organizations in Lane County) generally show low marks in both math and reading. Forster states,
“We have a challenge right now of growing the foundational skills of a great portion of our community. If we can’t get some math and reading levels up then we may have a group of people that could get left behind, especially as jobs get more technical. There is a big demand for software programming in our community. But in some cases there just isn’t the right training available.”
Taylor realized on her search for work not only the importance of skills, but experience. Finding a job that did not have some type of limitation upon hiring proved difficult during her years of job hunting. She says,
“My biggest frustration while searching for a job was realizing how many positions I wasn’t qualified for. Many of the jobs require a minimum experience of a year or two. I didn’t have that, so I felt discouraged from applying from the start.”
For help in acquiring jobs, visit Lane Workforce Partnership, the Oregon Department of Human Services, or the Oregon Employment Department. These services can help individuals find ways to enter the workforce, improve skill sets, and direct individuals in finding work to fit those skill sets.