Ryan Lemieur rolls the cursor across his digital resume, fiddling with the font, the words spelled out in front of him.
How many resumes will this be? Twelve? More?
This time, he wants to make sure the resume is personalized, specific. Not some cookie-cutter thing.
This time, Lemieur wants a real job, a college-town job that pays well.
"You don't want to do an $8-an-hour job," he says. "You want something permanent."
For months, the former U.S. Marine and longtime truck driver has scoured the Lawrence job market, searching for a job with long-term prospects and a respectable salary. Right now, he doesn't have a job at all.
He worked as a bank teller for a while, then hopped around at a few jobs. He doesn't like it, he says - "It makes you feel like crap" - but for eight bucks an hour, employers likely aren't surprised when people don't stay too long.
Now, he's sitting at a cubicle in the lobby of the Lawrence Workforce Center, getting ready for job interview No. 13 or so - the product of dozens more job applications.
Lemieur isn't alone at the center, 2540 Iowa. On the same weekend that many working folks in Lawrence try to get out of their jobs early for the long Labor Day weekend, those here at the center are just trying to get a job.
But often, their choices are sparse. On average, 375 people or more come into the center every week looking for jobs, officials say - equaling more than 19,500 first-time and repeat job seekers a year.
With the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reporting the number of unemployed workers in Lawrence around 2,600 during any given month, officials say the city's work force suffers from both unemployment and underemployment.
"It's been going on for quite a while in Lawrence, Kansas," said Cheryl White, manager of the state-run center.
Some skills in demand
Some people spend months searching for work in a job market tough on highly trained professionals and unskilled laborers.
For professionals with lots of education, White said, jobs aren't always readily available in Lawrence. She relayed stories of folks with degrees searching more than a year for a job in town.
"That's why people go outside of the area," White said.
For laborers, most kinds of specialized work requires employees who have vocational training or experience in a certain field. Rodney Carr, a development representative at the center, said even low-paying handyman jobs at local apartment complexes require several kinds of training in various trades, such as plumbing or carpentry.
"A lot of people lack the education, the basic skills to get those kinds of jobs," Carr said. "We have a big void in Lawrence, Kansas, to help these individuals."
Part of the problem, center officials say, stems from the lack of a true training center in Lawrence. The nearest vocational or technology training centers are in Topeka and the Kansas City area - and people who can't afford to commute for a job likely can't afford to pay for training there, either.
Carr said the push for training in Lawrence has been going on for years. He was on a task force in the 1990s that examined training in the area.
Even then, a training gap existed between what skills local companies need and the education level of the local work force, he said.
In May 2005, the Policy Research Institute at Kansas University issued a report for a Lawrence school district task force that mirrored the experiences of work force center officials - including gaps in worker skills and a lack of skilled employees in Douglas County.
"We really need to improve in that area," White said.
Driving for dollars
But even for people with those skills, wages in the city drive some to commute.
At another cubicle in the work force center, Hope Anderson waits for an e-mail from her new employer in Overland Park.
A trained nurse, Anderson said she likely could have worked in town for a hospital or care facility, but she couldn't turn down the added cash she gets working in the Kansas City area.
"Even with the cost of gas, they pay enough to make it worth it," she said.
Lawrence Chamber of Commerce officials said there is hope on the horizon for local workers. Jamie Blaylock, director of the chamber's business retention and attraction programs, said companies have been vying to bring new projects to the Lawrence area, possibly adding jobs soon.
In the meantime, officials said, local employers such as Berry Plastics Corp. and Del Monte Foods often ramp up seasonal hiring this time of year, and those seasonal jobs can turn into full-time positions.
But at the work force center, full-time positions are still hard to come by for people like Lemieur, a high school graduate. Carr described many of his clients' attitudes as depressed, distressed, frustrated.
But Carr and White said they worked hard to ensure that even when jobs are scarce and unemployment payments are running out, their clients keep a positive outlook.
"Landing that job could take five or six months," White said. "But there are always opportunities. We want people to stay motivated."