Looking for jobs in scarce market

Melissa Price

School district budget cuts affect more than the student body, it affects the local economy, too.

Richard Andrews, a licensed groundskeeper, was laid off Sept. 1 by the Oak Harbor School District due to a round of cuts. He’s been on the hunt for employment since.

“I’ve tried the county and the city, but it’s just the wrong season and the wrong time of year,” he said. “Even private landscapers I’ve talked to are going through tough times.”

On Thursday Andrews attended the WorkSource Whidbey Job Fair at the Elks Lodge, along with more than 320 other people looking for work and hoping to change their situation.

WorkSource Center Coordinator Anne Hallam said people of all ages turned up at the fair.

“From senior to senior, really,” she said, referring to the wide mix of ages, from a group of Oak Harbor High School seniors who visited the fair early in the day, to senior citizens well into their 60s moving from booth to booth with job applications in hand.

And their reasons for attending were just as varied. Some, like Andrews, were victims of layoffs. Others, like LauraJean Kruger, are just looking for something new.

“I’m ready for a change,” she said of her interest in a new job.

Twenty-one employers set up shop at the event. Their representatives collected resumes and interviewed prospective workers.

Most of the employers agreed that they received plenty of interest from the large pool of prospective employees. Two representatives from Safeway collected information from more than 75 people.

Joe Giannamore, a regional labor economist for Northwest Washington, said the unemployment rate in Island County is 5.5 percent, compared to Washington state, which is at 5.3 percent.

Although Island County’s rate is slightly higher, the good news is that its unemployment rate only increased half a percentage point from this time last year as Washington state’s jumped an entire percentage point, he said.

“Island County is not as affected because the economy is so structured around the Navy base,” Giannamore said, adding that in general the Washington state economy remains stronger than the national economy.

“We’re not as affected by the housing economy. But we are starting to lose jobs, firms are starting to shut down. We’re not immune,” he said.

Giannamore estimates that the economy will continue on its rough course for “another 6, 8, maybe 12 months.”

Hallam said the fair was an overall success.

“By the end of the day we know of at least eight people who left the fair with a job,” she said.

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