Stephen Romero is dedicated to finding a job. The 35-year-old who spends his time these days scouring classified ads and fine-tuning his resume spent Friday at the Mesa County Workforce Center, 2897 North Ave., applying online for unemployment benefits, something he hasn’t had to do in 10 years.

Romero, accustomed to being paid upwards of $18 an hour working in either construction or the oil fields, would consider taking any job now, even if it paid only $5 to $6 an hour.

“I feel let down,” he said, scanning for new job postings on the center’s computers. “I can’t find nothing. Before I could find something quick.”

Romero isn’t the only one scrambling to find work these days. While Mesa County reported a 4.3 percent unemployment rate in November, the state’s rate climbed to 5.8 percent that month. The nation’s unemployment rate is much gloomier. It jumped to 7.2 percent in December, with employers slashing 524,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

An astonishing 2.6 million jobs were lost this year, and some of those cutbacks are being felt locally.

Gilbert Lujan, a supervisor at the center, said the facility is breaking records for its numbers of job seekers. In December, 1,873 people used the center’s resource room for calling employers, faxing and using computers to find jobs. The center’s previous record of folks using the room was in November, when about 1,500 job seekers filtered in, he said.

“We thought that number was really high,” Lujan said.

In December 2007, the center recorded job seekers filing 113 jobless claims. A year later, 356 unemployment claims were filed there by job seekers in December 2008, he said.

The center cannot directly accept jobless claims, but job seekers can use the center’s computers to complete online applications. Job seekers also can use a telephone line to call and sign up for benefits, but a high volume of callers has snarled the line, Lujan said.

Once job seekers receive unemployments benefits, they need to check in with the center periodically.

Available jobs are spread over a broad spectrum of occupations, including certified nursing assistants, truckers, office workers and service-industry jobs, he said. Still, the competition for any job is increasing, with job seekers reporting sometimes having to compete against more than 100 people for one job.

Romero said at least 60 people showed for local interviews at Crown Oilfield Services, just a day after the ad hit the newspaper.

He’s heard there may be work in the oil fields in North Dakota and Arkansas, and he said he wouldn’t hesitate to move if he could find employment.

Romero said he’s living on a friend’s couch, and he’s worried as the bills, such as his child-support payments, begin piling up. He’s considering getting a commercial driver’s license or further qualifications to work again in the oil fields. Romero has lived in Grand Junction for the past six years but has never known the job market to be so tight.

“Times like this, you make what you can, even if you have to get two jobs,” he said.

Lujan said the workforce center helps some job seekers pay for some of the costs associated with training in high-demand jobs, such as trucking and nursing. However, the state cut back on funding for that program, which is called the Workforce Investment Act.

Lujan started noticing more local folks filtering into the center in October and November. The oil and gas fields generally slow down in the winter months, Lujan said, but that slowdown seemed to occur earlier this year. Jobs also are decreasing in that sector, he said.

“It’s definitely an employer’s market,” he said.

On Friday afternoon, close to closing time, the center’s lobby and resource room were busy
with job seekers checking computers and working the phones.

“We’re just trying to find different ways to help people get back on their feet,” Lujan said.


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