Thursday, October 16, 2008

Seasonal jobs outlook is dim

Ronald Williams pulled his children out of day care in the spring after he was laid off from his cable installation job and could no longer afford it.

His wife works full-time during the day, so the Nashville resident became a stay-at-home dad until he could find work that would help pay the bills.

But a suitable job has been hard to come by.

Williams found himself Wednesday with dozens of people in similar situations at a place he's never had to go: a job fair for temporary work.

"I've never had trouble finding a job," said Williams, whose four children range in age from 4 to 11 years. "We were accustomed to two incomes, and now we have one. You have to make life changes. You have to cut back on everything, cut down to basic essentials."

Competition is tough

Companies hiring for the holiday season are attracting job candidates like Williams, who are looking for work to help make ends meet. But seasonal jobs are not as plentiful as in past years, and the competition is greater.

Williams' story has become all too familiar to Juliet Mason, a work-force development facilitator for the Urban League of Middle Tennessee. She helps candidates polish their resumes and interviewing skills and find jobs that match their qualifications.

"Jobs seem like they are drying up," said Mason, who organized Wednesday's mini-job fair at the Urban League office on Rosa L. Parks Boulevard in Nashville. "It's becoming harder and harder to get people placed. We are seeing a lot more people out of work."

The Federal Reserve Bank confirmed Wednesday what Mason already knew.

The Reserves' Beige Book, a report on current economic conditions released eight times a year, reported a bleak outlook for holiday hiring. Fewer seasonal jobs will be available, but temporary employment agencies will continue to see an increase in applications.

Vance Willoughby, a store manager at the TJ Maxx in Murfreesboro, said jobs fairs give employers a chance to meet potential employees face-to-face, in place of shuffling through mounds of applications.

Some of the temporary jobs can lead to permanent positions.

"My application flow is a lot heavier," said Willoughby, whose company was one of eight to recruit at the fair over two days. "It feels like there are a lot more people looking for jobs out there."

Debra Roberts filled out an application on Wednesday for TJ Maxx, hoping that there would be a position at one of 10 area stores. She had to leave her job as a cashier when she gave birth to her daughter three months ago.

"It's really hard to find a job," said Roberts, another of the 80 or so who came to the fair.

"I would do anything right now. No one is really hiring. The businesses need help, but they don't have the money to hire."

David Penn, an economist at Middle Tennessee State University, said a slow economy, falling home prices and low consumer confidence could influence the hiring situation for the holiday season.

Expectations are low

"Employment will depend critically on what (businesses) will be able to sell, beginning the middle of November and lasting for about six weeks," said Penn, director of the Business and Economic and Research Center at MTSU. "You have to think the expectations are going to be pretty low. It's going to be a pretty tough Christmas."

That's not good news for Williams.

He wants to find a night-shift job so he can be with his children during the day while he wife works. But he knows at this point he can't be picky.

He's discouraged by what he sees happening on Wall Street and with the job market.

"I have seen my 401(k) dwindle. It gets very stressful when you're talking about money. It's all very discouraging," Williams said. "You just have to be open to anything, and try to do your part."

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