For Ex-Offenders, Older Workers, Uneducated, Jobs Even Harder to Find

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McClatchy Newspapers

For Ex-Offenders, Older Workers, Uneducated, Jobs Even Harder to Find

by
Halimah Abdullah

Dwayne Speller, 22, waits to talk to a counselor at the Nevada Jobconnect Career Center in Las Vegas, Friday, March 6, 2009. The number of new jobless claims and the total number of people receiving unemployment benefits both dropped more than expected last week, though they remain at elevated levels and are unlikely to fall substantially in the coming months. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

WASHINGTON - Julie Sizemore can only imagine what employers think when her resume crosses their desks.

After all, the Danville, Ky., native is an ex-convict trying to
re-enter the workforce during a severe recession after having spent
several years at home caring for her three children. Hardly the type of
credentials that would ordinarily help her rise above the throngs of
recent college graduates and middle managers with MBAs all clamoring
for the same jobs as baristas or restaurant greeters.

"It's
rough. I prefer something in administration, but I would settle for
anything I can find," she said. "The economy right now, there's so many
people out of work and if there's an opening at a place, it's gone."

Sizemore
recently went to a small tobacco outlet in her town to fill out a job
application. Four hundred other people applied for the same position.

She didn't get the job.

She's filled out applications at restaurants, gas stations, stores and offices -- all to no avail.

"I can't even get a job at McDonalds," she said.

Sizemore
is part of the unemployment underclass, a group comprised of people
with little or spotty work histories, workers without college degrees
nearing retirement and those with criminal records who've recently
found themselves crowded out by the ever-swelling ranks of overly
qualified, younger applicants applying for low-paying jobs.

That trend will likely continue.

Roughly
651,000 jobs were lost in February, according to the figures released
Friday by the Department of Labor. Over the past year, the number of
unemployed increased by about 5 million, and the unemployment rate has
risen to 8.1 percent -- the highest in 25 years.

Job losses have affected nearly all major industry sectors.

As
the economy continues to weather massive job losses and a tightened job
market, people like Sizemore are finding it increasingly difficult to
land employment.

Studies have found that within a year after
release up to 75 percent of ex-convicts remain unemployed, said Devah
Pager, an associate sociology professor at Princeton University and
author of "Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass
Incarceration."

"Often, ex-offenders are employed in small
business, service industry and low-wage seasonal employment, and that's
exactly the areas where employers are cutting back," Pager said.

Even
before the economic downturn, programs designed to address barriers
facing ex-offenders were barely making a dent, Pager said. Similarly,
though programs to help people re-entering the workforce, teens and
older workers abound, the economic reality is that there are simply
fewer jobs available.

"This economic downturn has affected
management and blue collars, there are a lot of people hurting
throughout the pay scale," said Brian Poe, CEO of Hard 2 Hire, a
Kentucky-based company that specializes in helping job seekers like
Sizemore. "If you have something on your record you're at a
disadvantage. If you're a military spouse you're at a disadvantage. If
you're over 50 you're at a disadvantage."

After she was paroled
in October, Sizemore immediately went on the job hunt, scouring
classified ads and Web sites. She signed up with Hard 2 Hire, but so
far she hasn't netted a job.

The conditions of her probation for
first-degree drug trafficking require that she be employed at least 30
days after parole, but her job hunt has lasted several months. Her
probation officer understands the challenges.

Still, Sizemore
worries about the financial strain on her husband, Ronnie, who now
works six days a week at a local printing press.

"It's gotten
more difficult for sure," said Warren Lambert, district supervisor for
the Kentucky probation and parole office handling Sizemore's case.
"Before (ex-convicts) weren't having to scrap and fight so much for
everything. This was before everyone in the world was looking for jobs."

A
recent study by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northwestern
University found that the recession has been "overwhelmingly
devastating" on adults under 30, young adults without college degrees,
older workers with limited schooling and minority males, said Andrew
Sum, the center's director.

"They're going to have the hardest time getting jobs," Sums said.

The
White House is urging patience as money from the recently passed
economic stimulus package and bank rescue packages begins to make an
impact in the coming months. The first signs of an economic turnaround
could come this summer, Christina Romer, chair of the White House
Council of Economic Advisers, told CNBC on Friday.

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