Laid-off vie with new workers for jobs

Not only are there fewer jobs in the Wichita area, but more people are competing for them than ever before. Susan Randall has been out of work since October 2008, when she was laid off from her job as program liaison at Hawker Beechcraft.

Since then, she has spent hundreds of hours searching online and filled a 4-inch binder full of job applications and has started another. She has gotten a few interviews, but mostly, she's gotten nothing.

That's because between November 2008 and November 2009, the ranks of those looking unsuccessfully for work in the Wichita area swelled by 11,000. They are why Wichita's unemployment rate rose from 4.5 percent to 7.9 percent.

But, state figures show the total number of people working in the Wichita area only fell by about 5,000.

So who are the other 6,000 people?

This is the "added-worker effect," in which the spouses or other family members of laid-off workers look for jobs to support the family.

These spouses didn't have to work during the good times, when their husbands or wives brought home $50,000 or $60,000 from the aircraft plants.

The downturn has affected men disproportionately because most layoffs occurred in manufacturing and construction, said Donna Ginther, a labor economist and director of the Center for Economic and Business Analysis at the University of Kansas.

On the other hand, Ginther said, female-dominated sectors such as education and health care have been far less affected.

Unfortunately for spouses returning to work, many start with a big disadvantage because their skills have eroded.

Sherree Holtz, an administrative assistant for health care staffing firm Interim Healthcare, said her company isn't hiring people who have been out of work for more than two years for most positions. Job requirements, especially record-keeping, keep changing and employers aren't interested in on-the-job training, she said.

"It's changed on such a level," she said. "It's almost every day."

Discouraged workers

While thousands of new workers are flowing into the Wichita work force, so far relatively few appear to be flowing out as discouraged workers.

Discouraged workers are those who are unemployed and want work, but are no longer actively searching.

The recession is relatively young in Wichita, so it may be too early for large numbers of people to quit looking, Ginther said.

It's difficult for a community when the work force starts to shrink as more workers quit looking and go home to brood, she said.

It signals a significant change in mood from optimistic to pessimistic, she said.

Randall is downbeat after 14

months out of full-time work, but she can't afford to stop trying.

She said she's living partly on her savings, which are beginning to dwindle.

She has found intermittent temp work, which helps, and

continues to look for something already in her long and varied resume: retail, human resources, administrative management, inventory control or purchasing.

"I can't afford to be discouraged," she said. "I get all frustrated and I vent, take a deep breath, take a pause, then go back to looking."