There were plenty of hard-luck stories at the Diversity Job Fair among the roughly 4,500 people strolling the booths.
Some of the attendees at Wednesday's event at Century II are out of work, while others were just looking for more hours and more money.
It's been an unusually difficult downturn for job seekers, with an average of 39 weeks for the unemployed to find new work.
Jayme Thompson of Wichita is 20 and has worked part-time at a large retailer for two years. After having her hours cut, she was at the job fair looking for better-paying work, or maybe a second job.
She is having trouble paying the rent and having enough left over for food and other basics. She wants to go to college to better her prospects, but she doesn't have the money for tuition or even to pay the car insurance needed to commute to school.
"I looked at the Army," she said. "But I can hear my mother saying, 'Don't go that way.' "
Marc Porter of Wichita also believes education is the ticket to a better life, but the reality, so far, has been discouraging.
Last year, he finished his business degree at a local university in hopes of boosting his earnings, but he hasn't found the kind of job he hoped for — and he now has $30,000 in school loans.
Right now, he' s fallen back on an old certified nursing assistant certificate to work at an assisted living center.
"I just want a job that's worth the $43,000 I spent on my degree," he said.
One of the toughest stories comes from Amber Kirkland, a single mother who lost her job as a customer retention specialist about six months ago.
She and her 4-year-old son are surviving on Section 8 housing and $471 a month from the state. She doesn't have a phone, sets her air conditioner at 80 degrees and has to think hard before spending money on laundry soap.
She has gotten positive response from companies hiring for customer service-type jobs, she said, but no offers, yet.
"At this point I'd push a broom," she said.
Even so, Bob Loudermilk, president of Quantum Expositions International, the Wichita company that put on the job fair, was surprisingly upbeat.
Aircraft hiring is set to turn up, he said. There were a few more aircraft-related employers at the fair, although most were from out of town. He is planning to hold aircraft-focused job fairs in Wichita and elsewhere this fall because of expected rising demand.
"People I talk to say the demand is just going to go up," he said.