Charles Walton has about $100 to his name. No job, few prospects, an unreliable car and a bus pass to get to the occasional job interview.
His safety net: in-laws who gave him a place to live after his wife left him, taking his two young daughters.
A recent morning had Walton, 48, searching for leads at the Nevada JobConnect office on Maryland Parkway, scouring the employment listings with Heather Brown, an employment representative.
Brown sat Walton in her cubicle, where they spent an hour poring over 310 job openings (minimum-wage work to $40,000-a-year marketing positions) and updating his resume, removing experience past 10 years to focus on more relevant experience for the jobs Walton was seeking.
Walton, who has a high school diploma, worked a number of jobs over the past decade — mail sorter at the post office, guest room attendant at Aria, greeter selling time shares, janitor and newspaper deliverer. It has been tough through boom times and economic collapse.
“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen,” said Walton, a Southern California native. “When I moved here in ’96, the second day I was here I had a job.”
Because he’s black, Walton faces even longer odds. In August, the U.S. unemployment rate for African Americans was nearly 17 percent, almost double the overall unemployment rate.
Walton was one of 1,800 job seekers, many of them repeat customers, to walk through JobConnect’s doors in the past two weeks. The program is offered by the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, informally known as the state employment division.
“It seems like things are getting worse,” said Brown, worrying the valley might be slipping back into recession. “It’s just really tough.”
From Brown’s cubicle, job seekers could be overheard meeting with her co-workers at adjacent desks. One person spoke of having worked on Wall Street; another was a laid-off educator. Unemployed doctors, lawyers and construction workers have come in search of work. A recent graduate of a prestigious law school told Brown that he had two resumes — one that lists his full educational background, one that doesn’t, fearing that his advanced degree might scare off potential employers.
No matter their previous professions, degrees or awards, many job seekers are struggling to maintain their confidence and sense of purpose in a state where nearly 200,000 people are unemployed. An equal number of people are estimated to have jobs but are working fewer hours than they want to, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Right now things are really tough out there,” Walton said. “I would accept a job working as a guest room attendant. That’s tough work, hard work, but I’d do it.”
He lost his Aria job after struggling to clean 13 rooms during an eight-hour shift. Brown steered him to job openings at off-Strip hotels with smaller, potentially less-demanding rooms. He’s applied elsewhere with no luck.
“Most of the time I don’t get any return calls,” he said. “It’s like you really have to know somebody to find work.”
Brown is patient with Walton and other clients. She discusses strategies and notes the availability of the office’s 17 computers, which clients can use to apply for work. A significant number of people seeking employment don’t have a computer, Internet access or the skills to use them. A JobConnect staffer helps customers with those challenges, while several local nonprofit organizations offer free computer classes.
There are other challenges hurting some job-seekers’ ability to find work.
JobConnect representatives have heard from potential employers who say a significant number of job candidates fail drug tests. “Many of them tell us that’s a problem,” Brown said.
Employers also say a sizable number of applicants have credit scores in the low 500s, well-below the threshold needed to qualify for work. “How do you have a good credit score if you have don’t a job to pay your bills?” Brown asks.
The job market is filled with qualified applicants who are willing to do most anything to pay their bills and regain their self-confidence, which so many define by the jobs they hold. Competition is stiff. “I’ve noticed employers are expecting a lot more (of applicants) and are paying a lot less,” Brown said.
As for Walton, he remains committed to finding a job, but as he struggles to make that happen, he believes business and political leaders lack an understanding of what the average person is facing as the recession enters its fourth year.
“They don’t realize what people are going through right now,” he said. “People need work. People need jobs. When they have jobs they can buy cars, homes, put money in the bank, but they really can’t do anything without jobs. … Right now I feel like our lives are on hold.”