Jobs coming back slowly, say some

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Shawn Cowling had just gotten home from work Friday when his phone rang. It was his boss, telling him that day at the local construction company would be his last.

The 31-year-old father of four was about to enter the world of the unemployed.

He is one of more than 8.5 million people unemployed in the United States and more than 285,000 in Missouri, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On Monday, Cowling headed to the Missouri Career Center in Cape Girardeau to search through job listings and claim unemployment benefits for the first time in more than 10 years.

"I'm not real picky. I just need a job," Cowling said. "I don't have time to go back to school. Besides, there's people with bachelor's degrees working at McDonald's right now with things the way they are."

June O'Dell, president and chief operating officer of the Workforce Investment Board of Southeast Missouri, which manages Missouri Career Centers for the state, said she's seeing an increase in job openings, but most companies are adding only one or two positions at a time.

"We have on-the-job training money available for employers who are willing to hire, but they are afraid to hire," O'Dell said. "This uncertainty is just really staggering."

She said she was encouraged to see more help-wanted ads in Sunday's paper.

"It's an employers market right now," she said. "It's like the housing market. You can get someone to work for you now for less than you could two or three years ago."

There are incentives to offset the employee training costs for companies who hire workers who were laid off, O'Dell said. Funds are also available to help workers who lost their job train for new careers, including health care.

January's national unemployment rate dropped slightly to 9 percent from 9.4 percent in December, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. State and county unemployment data for January isn't yet available, but in 2010 those rates remained fairly steady, but still high.

Perry County's unemployment rate is historically one of the lowest, at 6.5 percent in December. Perry County unemployment declined throughout 2010, peaking at 7.8 percent in February and declining as low as 5.8 percent in May.

Cape Girardeau County's December unemployment rate was 7.5 percent. It remained nearly unchanged from June through December, hovering between 7.9 percent and 7.4 percent. Scott and Bollinger counties both had slightly higher December unemployment rates at 9.2 and 9.1 percent, respectively. Those rates also stayed consistent in 2010, with Bollinger County's unemployment peaking at 11.8 percent in February 2010.

"Lowering the unemployment rate is extremely important to our state's ongoing economic recovery, as such a drop means the creation of new jobs and more Missourians rejoining the work force," said John Fougere, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Economic Development.

There have been local increases in retail and service job openings in recent months, said Julie Casey, director of MERS Goodwill in Cape Girardeau. Casey's organization helped place more than 100 people in jobs in Southeast Missouri last year.

After losing more than 101,000 jobs during 2008 and 2009, Missouri didn't experience any net job losses in 2010, Fougere said.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

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