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MailTribune.com
  • ECONOMIC CRISIS IN JACKSON COUNTY

    'I'll do anything'

    With unemployment soaring in Southern Oregon, even temporary jobs are starting to become scarce
  • Enrique Avina may have lost a good-paying job recently laying pipe for fiber-optic cables, but he still believes he's luckier than many because he has found work here and there.
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  • Enrique Avina may have lost a good-paying job recently laying pipe for fiber-optic cables, but he still believes he's luckier than many because he has found work here and there.
    "Maybe that's why I keep working," said the 48-year-old White City father of three. "I'll do anything."
    After Avina was laid off from Brotherton Pipeline, he took a temporary position through Labor Ready in Medford at a natural foods company in Ashland for lower pay.
    "It's hard right now," he said. "Starting this year everything came down."
    Avina and others who suddenly find themselves in the ranks of the unemployed are discovering that even temporary labor — once a fallback between steady jobs — is getting hard to come by.
    In years past, Labor Ready had no problems finding more than 100 temporary jobs a day, and workers did everything from ditch-digging to raking up pine needles for homeowners.
    "A lot of the jobs we do are the jobs other people don't want to do," said Mike Snow, branch manager at Labor Ready, 830 Crater Lake Ave.
    He said it has been extremely difficult finding temporary job placements as the unemployment rate nudges 10 percent.
    "It's stressful," he said. "I really care about the individual coming in. You have to look them in the eye and say sorry we have nothing for them today. And, I know they are trying to feed their families."
    Since the middle of last year, only about 30 to 50people have been showing up because they know there aren't as many jobs available, said Snow. Now, he can place about 25 to 35 on a given day.
    Instead of taking applications Monday through Thursday as it did in years past, Labor Ready now takes them from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and Thursdays only.
    Lately there have been some jobs working on a beet farm in Central Point. Snow still gets calls from employers or homeowners looking for people to fill in an office position or to help someone move.
    Snow said the desperation is becoming more apparent as people lose jobs and businesses, and competition for work becomes even tougher.
    "We've got general contractors who had a business for 15 to 20 years coming in," he said.
    Most positions pay minimum wage or slightly better. Workers get special training and are carefully reviewed to make sure they meet federal standards for being employed in the U.S.
    Snow said he hasn't heard any good news yet from the business community about when owners expect to start rehiring.
    "I think they're all hoping and praying," he said.
    At The Job Council in Medford and Grants Pass, job seekers are advised there is less work available and more competition.
    "I've been here 23 years and I have never seen it like it is right now," said Jill Wilson, program manager at The Job Council.
    David Timberlake, who was laid off from Harry & David recently, said it has been particularly stressful on him as he searches for work on a computer at The Job Council.
    "I was about ready to blow a gasket," said the 57-year-old Medford man. "Sometimes you have to hit bottom before you get up."
    He was a machine specialist at Harry & David, then took a job there as a general laborer before the layoff.
    "Unemployment is better known as 'unenjoyment,' " he said.
    Combing through the Internet and describing himself as a mechanic since 1971, Timberlake so far has found nothing he's qualified for.
    On another computer next to Timberlake, Madeline Rose said there still are lots of jobs available through the federal government, but you have to keep track of some pretty tight deadlines to apply and be willing to travel to other parts of the country.
    A naturalist, tour guide and ranger, the Medford woman, who has raised four children, said she works through the summer at places such as Crater Lake or Yellowstone to supplement her meager pension.
    "Know your strengths," she advised. "Market yourself and go after it."
    Even though she feels optimistic about her own prospects, Rose said it is getting more difficult for people to find work.
    "It's a flat world," she said. "I'm trying not to fall off the edge."
    Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.
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