(Zachary Kaufman/The Columbian)
Braden Lewallen, 22, wants a job, and he's not shy about it.
The Camas resident, who recently graduated from Washington State University in Pullman with a bachelor's degree in political science (with a pre-law speciality), estimates he's applied for somewhere close to 200 jobs.
He's encouraged that employers from the East Coast are buzzing his phone, he said Monday during a regional jobs fair in Vancouver. He said he's maintaining a positive vibe about the economy. He was dressed like it: spotless gray slacks, sleek vest and striped tie.
"I'm just putting out résumés," he said, "and getting my name" out there.
Lewallen joined hundreds of other job seekers who, after jockeying for a parking spot amid an overflow scene, packed the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay for a Southwest Washington jobs fair aimed at connecting employers and prospective employees.
U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, convened the free event, which featured 65 employers from a variety of industries, including Community Home Health & Hospice, Corwin Beverage Company, Fisher Investments, Georgia Pacific, nLight, Vancouver Public Schools, WaferTech, Washington State Patrol and Wal-Mart.
Shortly before 2 p.m., the hotel brimmed with more than 400 job seekers. Many more were expected to arrive for an event that began at 1 p.m. and would continue until 5 p.m.
People approached employers' tables, toting résumés and exuding optimism.
Suffice it to say, they face a crummy labor market. While the U.S. economy is slowly on the mend, data show, job applicants face tough odds.
Meanwhile, the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers issued a news release Monday blasting Herrera Beutler's event as a "publicity stunt" that distracts from her support of free trade policies that ship jobs in Washington state to other countries.
Casey Bowman, a spokesman for Herrera Beutler, said that's not true. Herrera Beutler has "worked tirelessly in Congress to help companies grow and succeed right here in Southwest Washington," he said in an email to The Columbian.
'Somewhere I can fit in'
Inside the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay, people lined up to meet employers, whose representatives were stationed at tables with signs displaying company logos. Job seekers also grabbed packets of information, provided by Herrera Beutler's office, that included a list of participating employers and information about their current job openings.
Job seekers of all ages seemed to be present. Some were dressed more casually than others. Some seemed to have more time to hunt for a job, more options, fewer cracks to avoid. Others, not so.
Karl Green, 31, knows he's up against it. He's homeless. He and his family have secured shelter and food at Share's Valley Homestead in Hazel Dell.
He's still unemployed, he said, but he's got skills in everything from landscaping and warehouse work to telemarketing and customer service. Dressed in a tie and jacket, he smiled and spoke of not giving up, of taking things one day at a time.
"I'm just trying to find somewhere I can fit in," he said.
He's not alone.
Unemployment in Clark County is 10 percent. Underemployment — which includes involuntary part-time workers and those who've given up looking for work but who still want a job — is likely 20 percent in the county, according to Scott Bailey, regional labor economist for the Washington State Employment Security Department.
Bailey has told The Columbian that, based on studies he's reviewed, a skills mismatch — where employers can't find the right workers — is a small part of a national problem in which millions of Americans remain out of work. The bigger problem is a lack of aggregate demand in the economy, according to a recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Consumers and businesses are holding down purchases and expansions, which keeps job seekers on the sidelines.
As a result, job growth has remained slow. During the recession years — from February 2008 to February 2010 — Clark County hemorrhaged 10,200 jobs. Since then, it has recovered 6,500 jobs, or about 64 percent of what was lost.
That's a long way to go.
And "prolonged spells of unemployment cause substantial hardship," according to the study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. "People who are unemployed for a long time struggle not only with a loss of financial well-being, but also with a likely deterioration of their re-employment prospects."
Vancouver resident Chloe Yager visited Monday's jobs fair with thoughts of re-entering the labor market after taking time off to be a stay-at-home mom.
Her 6-year-old son, Curtis, already is in kindergarten, and her 5-year-old daughter, Casey, is headed there in the fall.
So Yager may have more time for a job, she said, and she's itching a bit to put her mind back to professional work.
But she's not in a hurry, she said. She has skills. She previously worked for Morgan Stanley, the global financial services firm.
"I'm here more to peruse," she said. "I'm not gung-ho looking."
Not Lewallen, the recent Washington State University graduate. You'd definitely say he's gung-ho looking.
It'll be tough, though.
Young workers face an uphill battle in a still-sluggish economy. The labor force participation rate for people ages 16-24 is roughly 55 percent. That's down from about 65 percent in the early 2000s, according to U.S. Labor Department figures.
In a presentation he gave last week, Bailey said there are too many disconnected young people, and too many unemployed and underemployed people.
Undaunted, Lewallen was approaching employers' tables, shaking hands, chatting up people. He sees the economy recovering, he said. He just got a call from an employer in Cleveland. And he's gotten those calls from "back East," he said.