In Scranton, hard times are here again
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TESS VIGELAND: From Oakland we cross the country to Scranton, Pa. The current economy has not done any favors for that city. Plants and factories are closing. Scranton’s unemployment rate matches the national figure of 8.5 percent.
Reporter Peter Crimmins attended a job fair there to find out how residents of a hard-luck town are coping.
Peter Crimmins: Being out of work is many things. It’s scary. It’s demoralizing. It’s frustrating. Ray Kovacs learned that being out of work in Scranton is also boring.
Ray Kovacs: I’ve done everything to my house. I’ve painted, I’ve . . . there’s nothing else for me to do. I’ve been down to the casino a few times out in Mohegan just to get out of the house.
Kovacs has a degree in business administration and he’s worked in sales for a food company. He was laid off two months ago. Since then he has sent out 25 resumes and got zero replies. He’s beginning to consider a new career.
Kovacs: I might go back to college to be a police officer. They have program starting in June. Now if I can get funding for that, I’m going to try that.
Job options are few around here. Factory work is harder to come by. More than 300 people showed up this past Tuesday to a career fair in the downtown shopping mall. One of them was Jill Ford. She lost her job in marketing last October.
Jill Ford: Most of the in-demand jobs right now are health care or education, but not all of us are meant to be a doctor or a nurse or a teacher, which is frustrating.
There are lots of highly qualified people out of work in Scranton. Josh Betti is 29 years old and he has two college degrees, and he’s been out of work for almost a year.
Josh Betti: There’s really just not much around here. That’s, I think, the bottom line. People with MBA’s, you know, work with my girlfriend at Applebee’s.
The city is no stranger to hard times. Its population has steadily lost about 1,000 people every year since 1940. But some see a silver lining. M.J. Dougherty opened a wine bar downtown just last August — that’s right before the economy took a nose dive. But Dougherty says in Scranton it was as good a time as any.
M.J. Dougherty: We didn’t have a boom, you know, so there was not really much to bust.
Dougherty thinks Scranton is poised for a Renaissance. Like many people who grew up here, he flew the coop as soon as he could, and he never thought he would ever move back. But on a return visit last year he was pleasantly surprised.
Dougherty: I saw that downtown Scranton there was little coffee shops and people drinking their lattes, going to little boutiques. And I saw how much it had changed.
Since 2000 Scranton had been seeing its economy rise. But then the global economy melted. Virginia Turano is director of the county’s Workforce Investment Board. She organized the career fair, and she’s already looking forward to when the economy turns around.
Virginia Turano: We anticipate in the medical professions, in the IT professions, we are looking to bring some back-office work in from New York City, because we’re only two hours away. We have Tobyhanna army base about 45 minutes away from here and they are always looking for electronic technicians.
Scranton might turn around if they can just stop people from leaving town. Maybe a glass of wine will do the trick.
VIGELAND: That was reporter Peter Crimmins reporting from Scranton, Pa.
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