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Fallout: The Financial Crisis

Job searching in Youngstown, Ohio

Amy Scott Apr 24, 2009
Fallout: The Financial Crisis

Job searching in Youngstown, Ohio

Amy Scott Apr 24, 2009


Bob Moon: Earlier you heard how the organization Teach For America may be doubling it’s workforce. But of course you don’t have to look too hard to find the opposite trend. Take Youngstown, Ohio. 30 years ago it was a thriving steel town. Today, unemployment hovers around 14 percent. Marketplace’s Amy Scott passed through Youngstown recently and talked to some of the locals.

Amy Scott: In Youngstown’s Chevrolet Centre, out of work Ohioans mill about on a covered ice hockey rink.
The event is called a Lifeline to Valley Workers. Unemployment in the Mahoning Valley has about doubled in the last year. Government agencies, credit unions, and trade schools are here offering assistance.

Michael Lyons: We offer associate degrees in business administration, IT, and healthcare…

Michael Lyons represents National College. Enrollment has more than doubled since last year.

LYONS: I think people are starting to say OK, I have to reinvent myself. I have to put myself in a better position to move forward. Because you can’t stay still forever.

Billy Roberts is trying to move forward. He worked a crane at Severstal Steel for 20 years. He’s been laid off about six months now. He’s looking at training programs in business or communications.

Billy Roberts: I’m a high school soccer coach. And, you know, I’ve run a couple soccer clubs, so I’ve done some of that type of stuff on the side, working with people, communications and stuff. So I feel fairly confident if there was something I could get into doing that. And that’s something where you don’t have to worry about breaking your back, physical work, so you can work a little bit later in your life.

It’s looking like Roberts will have to work longer than he’d planned. He has a pension at the steel mill, but after watching steelworkers lose their pensions and healthcare over the years, he’s not counting on it. Being out of work has set back his savings.

ROBERTS: I got a little bit of a late start in life. I was looking at working till I’m 65 or 66 anyhow. But losing almost a year’s work, that’s a tough one.

The idea of reinvention isn’t that appealing to William Warren. At 61 years old, all he wants a job.

William Warren: I’m not looking to go to school. What would I want to go to school for? I want some cash right now.

Warren worked at Indalex Aluminum in nearby Girard for 38 years. The plant closed last year. He’s getting by on unemployment benefits for now. But he’s looking for work to tide him over until he can start drawing his pension next year.

WARREN: Everybody’s saying they’re not hiring everywhere I’ve been going. There just isn’t any real jobs out here right now. And there’s more people that are out of work than jobs being offered.

What is being offered here is help — help finding food and clothes and avoiding foreclosure. Mary Jo Earl is a loss mitigation negotiator for First Place Bank, which means if you’re behind on your mortgage, she’s the one who can cut you a deal. Traffic is slow when I stop by her table, but she says people really open up at events like these.

Mary Jo Earl: They’ll tell you if they’re delinquent, if they’re current, if they’re in foreclosure. They’ll tell you, you know, I make X amount of dollars. I didn’t think people would do that in such a public place, but they do. They’re so scared and want so much help, that they don’t care.

Earl says sometimes the job gets her down.

EARL: You hear a lot of stories and you think, there’s just no way that there can be this much bad luck in the world. But then when you finally get to the point where you can actually help somebody, that kind of turns it around for you. Because if you can help somebody stay in their home, it gives you a good feeling.

There are a lot of people she can’t help. If a customer is out of work and has no income, the only option may be foreclosure. Youngstown has among the highest rates in the country.

Marty Nickison is in that situation. He drives trucks for a living. Or did. He’s been out of work for a year.

Marty Nickison: So I was looking to see if there was any possibility of getting into any type of schooling or anything of that such.

Scott: And did you find anything?

Nickison: Not really. This is a basic what you would call a pacification job fair. It pacifies the public and it makes it possible for them to have hope where there is no hope.

Scott: Do you feel pacified?

Nickison: No. Not I.

That skepticism may help explain the low turnout for the event. Organizers had expected 6,000 people. Officials say just over 4,000 showed up. Or maybe it was an event going on in a neighboring county, a real job fair.

In Youngstown, Ohio, I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace Money.

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