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Army attracts white-collar workers

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KAI RYSSDAL: Let me take you back to last Friday and the January unemployment report. It was dismal — almost 600,000 jobs disappeared from the economy. Almost every industry lost ground. Except three: Healthcare, private education, and the federal government.

That last one probably explains why 4,000 people showed up at a military job fair near Washington, D.C., last weekend. Tamara Keith was there too.

TAMARA KEITH: The 300 to 400 jobs on offer in this community college gymnasium are white-collar, civilian jobs at the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground. The installation is growing at a time when many bases and huge swaths of the private sector are shrinking. Here, the Army is looking for some strong accountants, I.T. professionals, engineers and logistics specialists.

Phil Green is near the end of a long line — a very long line — trying to submit his resume.

Phil Green: You’ve probably got 100 people out here trying for one job opening, so . . . And the process is three to six months for this go-around. So, figure out the odds. It’s like buying a lottery ticket.

Green is an Oracle database administrator — it’s an I.T. thing. He worked for an energy company until December when the company had a big layoff.

GREEN: A layoff indicates you’ll possibly come back, but that’s not an option.

So he’s beating the street searching for a job to equal his skills — and something else: security.

GREEN: Everyone wants to work for the government. They have secure jobs. Where are they going to go, you know?

The unemployed aren’t the only ones seeking the shelter of a good government job. Most here are actually still employed in private industry, like Derek Harris.

DEREK HARRIS: Always looking for better opportunities.

Wearing a suit and bluetooth, he drove some two hours to attend the job fair.

HARRIS: I was just on the phone today with one of my best friends and he just was let go. You just can’t tell where the economy is today, so a government job is a little more — a little more — secure.

This doesn’t surprise Stephen Fuller. He teaches public policy at George Mason University. He says most people haven’t experienced a downturn this bad before — and that has everyone watching their backs and looking for a Plan B.

STEPHEN FULLER: Right now when there are job openings in government agencies they attract very qualified workers who are working in companies that are probably OK, but they worry.

And so they line up, hoping to make a good impression.

MARK ENGELHAUPT: Hello. Hi, I’m Mark Engelhaupt. I am interested in the information technology field.

Mark Engelhaupt has 9-year-old twin daughters and an I.T. job in the printing industry that he isn’t sure will last until it’s time for them to go to college.

ENGELHAUPT: I’m 53 years old, so I’m looking for something I can retire from. Looking for something a little bit more stable. And the Army looks like a good place to do that.

Maybe it’s just a sign of the times that a man with 30 years of experience in his field is walking around with a folder full of resumes.

In Bel Air, Maryland, I’m Tamara Keith for Marketplace.

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