Taking a look at what works
The political rhetoric is amping up in advance of next year’s presidential election. And the public, the media and politicians are talking a lot about jobs: how to save them and how to create them.
The numbers show that Lawrence and Kansas have been spared the double-digit unemployment numbers seen in other states. Even so, Lawrence has seen jobless numbers nearly double since 2006, from 3.4 percent to 6.4 percent as of August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Every change up or down in local unemployment numbers has an impact on a local person or family.
“The numbers don’t tell the story,” said Doug Houston, a professor of economics at Kansas University. “There are a lot of different stories.”
They’re stories, however, that often go untold.
In a nine-part Journal-World special series, some of those stories will be told, giving snapshots of how the local workforce is adjusting to a much different employment outlook.
Our series will look at several areas of the local job market.
We’ll tell the story of a local woman who has worked 44 temporary jobs since 2003, trying to make ends meet in an economy with few permanent openings. We’ll look at what it’s like for military veterans when they return from service, looking to re-enter the local job market. And we’ll see how employment assistance professionals, people who make their living helping others make a living, are adjusting how they help get people jobs.
They’re stories that highlight the shifting national and local job market.
“Everything’s changed and keeps changing,” Houston said.
“We’re dealing with a different world.”
• • •
In the last several years, Perry resident Carrie Vess-Sheley, 37, has worked just about everywhere as a temporary worker for Lawrence-based staffing agency Express Employment Professionals.
Accounting, administrative assisting, manual labor, sports concession stands, and staffing demonstration tables at area stores on the weekends; in total, Vess-Sheley has worked 44 different jobs since 2003.
The mother of five said she’s not bothered by new work environments and actually enjoys the frequent change of pace.
“I’m pretty flexible,” she said. “It works for me.”
Vess-Sheley is part of an emerging trend in the country and Kansas, as the number of temporary workers has spiked in the past two years.
Barry Kingery, co-owner of Express Employment Professionals, said his office was seeing more and more clients turning to temporary work after being laid off during the economic downturn.
“Looks a lot like our graph,” said Kingery as he examined national and state numbers for temporary workers. As of August 2011, there were about 2.2 million temporary workers in the country on an average day, up from less than 1.8 million in 2009. State numbers for 2011 aren’t yet available, but temporary workers increased from about 15,800 in 2009 to nearly 18,000 per day in 2010.
For businesses, the poor employment outlook has raised the quality of temporary workers, said Nate Scott, branch manager at the Sedona Group. Many of those overqualified workers, however, have to settle for less pay than they’re used to.
“People are accepting a lot less,” said Scott, adding that his office is seeing more clients with master’s and even doctoral degrees. But “it’s a paycheck,” he said.
Scott said his agency has from 25 to 75 workers on its payroll at any given time, working at everything from lower-paying manual labor to medical salespeople, who can make up to $50,000, he said.
Both Scott and Kingery say they also hear a wide variety of stories from clients about why they’re coming to a temporary employment agency. Some were laid off two years ago, and their unemployment insurance has run out, while others, like Vess-Sheley, turn to temporary work because it works well with a sporadic school and family-life schedule.
Then there’s Lawrence resident Alonzo Robinson, 54, who actually had a steady job during the tight economic times but was looking for something better.
“I wasn’t satisfied,” Robinson said of leaving his former job at a manufacturing company. “It was a leap of faith. You have to gamble sometimes.”
Robinson’s gamble paid off. A temporary job Robinson got through Express at the Lawrence-based manufacturing company Prosoco led to a full-time offer recently.
He likes the new work environment and his job as a machine operator, and that’s what it’s all about, he said.
“When I get up in the morning to go to work, I have a good attitude,” he said.
Temporary work is a trend that’s expected to continue, said Jon Osborne, vice president of research at Staffing Industry Analysts. As businesses start to recover from the recession, they’re not quite ready to commit to full-time workers, he said.
The increase in temporary labor, however, shows how scarce full-time, permanent, benefits-eligible jobs are.
“Everybody who is responsible for the (temporary worker) spike would like a full time job,” said Art Hall, executive director for the Kansas University Center for Applied Economics.
But while workers wait for businesses to offer those permanent jobs, temporary employment agencies bridge the gap, Hall said.
“They’re providing a service,” he said.