RETURN TO BUSINESS
For many, Labor Day spotlights hardship
More than 500K Arizonans jobless or underemployed

Tim Steller Arizona Daily Star
Monday, September 6, 2010 12:00 am

Welcome to another underworked Labor Day.

It's not just that there are 319,000 officially unemployed Arizona residents, who add up to Arizona's persistent 9.6 percent unemployment rate. They only tell half the story.

For the year that ended on June 30, 18.5 percent of Arizonans fell into a category made up of the jobless but looking; the jobless who had given up seeking work within the last year; those in jobs below their qualifications; and part-time workers. They represent another 252,000 or so people.

It's been this way for years now, since late 2007, when instead of adding jobs monthly, Arizona started losing jobs. We haven't stopped losing them yet.

Each unemployed or underemployed worker has a face and a story.

You can hear a lot of them at the Pima County OneStop career centers, at 2797 E. Ajo Way and 340 N. Commerce Park Loop.

Marilyn Kessler, 52, lost her job as a pre-press technician at a local printing firm in April 2009. Then came weeks of fearful, unsuccessful job hunting in the same field, followed by a year's training at Pima Community College in an effort to become a medical assistant.

Now she finds herself back at the OneStop, looking for work. This time it's in a field in which she expects to have more luck, but in which she's never had a job. But it's hard to keep that old feeling down.

"I'm scared again, like I was last time," Kessler said.

Nearby, Alvaro Alvarado, also 52, was scouring job listings, trying to get work as a custodian, the same field that he was laid off from three months ago.

It's discouraging because employers are paying so little - $7.25 per hour, for example. For now, he's getting $240 per week in unemployment checks.

"I went to some interviews, but nothing's happening now," he said.

Contact reporter Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-8427.