Letter From Redding: Don’t Give Me a Break, Just Give Me a Job
by Patti Eayre
“Stop!” I yelled. “Let me out!" As we were driving through a crowded strip mall one evening, I spotted a red and white Help Wanted sign in a bagel shop front window. As my husband came to a quick stop, I jumped out into a puddle, and ran back a block in the rain. Sans coat, I stood dripping in front of the shop window to read that no applications were available. To apply for a position at the bagel shop you had to submit a resume.
Long gone are the days when a simple tear-off form with hand written responses would give me a job. In today’s withered economy it can feel much like standing in a soup line just to pick up a blank job application. Trust me, I know. Several long years of unemployment in a dismal Northern California job market turned me into an expert at queuing-up, with every cover letter and resume stop pulled out, in hopes of being noticed in the throng.
In the beginning years of the last decade, life was good in Redding, California. It was a growing family community nestled in a lush, vibrant valley near the Shasta Cascade Mountains. Construction was at a high, with houses and businesses shooting up like spring dandelions. People came in droves. Southern Californian retirees cashed out of high-dollar homes in smoggy L.A. and headed north to snap up houses for bargain prices in beautiful Shasta County.
In 2005, I managed a temporary-labor staffing agency in Redding, and my husband drove a truck for a Shasta County fuel delivery outfit. We worked hard and put in a lot of hours, but we didn’t mind. We earned excellent salaries and thought we were on our way to financial security for our family.
Then, in early 2006, our local economy made an about-face. Construction slowed and then ground to a halt. People got scared and stopped buying. Large, well-known business closed one by one. We said goodbye to Mervyns, Gottschalks, and Circuit City, and hello to a huge number of displaced workers. By the end of 2006, my husband had received the dreaded pink slip. Within a month, as the job market for laborers dried up, my office closed for business, and my job went with it.
Suddenly, we went from being a hard working family to a family no longer working. There was no income, save unemployment insurance, and that was something we had no desire to draw a minute longer than necessary. Our savings went in a blink. My husband took the first job he could find, but at a 35% pay cut. Now he had to drive long-haul rather than locally, but we weren’t about to quibble—it was a job!
With a young child to care for, and my husband away for weeks at a time, I made it my routine to start every morning with the search for gainful employment. Early on, still optimistic that I could earn close to my previous salary, I applied for managerial or supervisory positions. I had no idea what an uphill battle my search would become. Each morning began with scanning long lists of job sites—Indeed, Monster, CareerBuilder, Hot Jobs, and several local job-dot-coms. I subscribed to a number of them to receive daily updates on new postings. With an associate’s degree and varied skills and experience, I was certain I would land a new job in fairly short order. After all, I had never had a problem finding one in my life.
I was faithful to my search. I was confident. Eventually, I was worried. It began to sink in that hordes of job-seekers, many overqualified, were willing to work at most anything to put food on the table. For positions similar to my last one, I was outclassed by bachelor’s and master’s degrees and years more experience. With my resume, I couldn’t even get a toe in the door.
From 2006 to the end of 2008, the unemployment rate in Shasta County had nearly doubled from 6.1% to 12.1%. I tossed any idea of picking and choosing jobs out the window, and threw my resume at anything and everything. And I do mean everything. Remaining diligent in my online job search, I also spent time weekly at the Employment Development Department, and printed up scads of resumes to walk door-to-door. Businesses were simply not hiring.
I did not give up. I would not give up. I applied to cashier at several gas stations. I was willing to answer phones, input data, or make those dreaded collections calls. I would clean offices or run errands. By the end of 2009, the sheer number of people walking the same path was staggering. One day, ready to accept any work they’d give me, I approached the customer service counter in Winco, a local discount foods store. I halted mid-step, staring, mouth ajar, at a large hand-written sign Scotch-taped to the counter. “No Jobs Open. Not Accepting Applications.” The throngs had beaten down even Winco, and the store was circling its wagons against sieges by desperate job seekers.
By the beginning of 2010, the jobless rate was climbing to 17.1%, a sky-high unemployment rate for Shasta County, and a record low for me. In three years of searching, and several tiers of unemployment insurance, I scored a total of three job interviews, none of which bore fruit.
How did I cope? I decided if no one would give me a job, I would give myself one. On a thin shoestring, I built a website to kick off a small home business. Will it succeed? I can’t say, but I hope so. I’m giving it my best, and can say for certain that making my own job beats the heck out of not having one at all.