Throng at Camden County job fair underscores somber jobs report

People line up at the Camden County Job Fair on the same day disappointing U.S. jobs figures were announced.
People line up at the Camden County Job Fair on the same day disappointing U.S. jobs figures were announced. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 24, 2013

Hours before the doors even opened, a throng of eager job-seekers began lining up Tuesday to look for work.

A short time later, several thousand people packed into the Collingswood Ballroom for the semiannual job fair sponsored by Camden County. They freshened up their resumés, sought career counseling, and tried to make a good impression in brief interviews with recruiters.

Nick Cerasi, 85, of Blackwood, drove his grandson, Jeffrey Bryan, to the event, which drew more than 125 prospective employers. His advice to Bryan, an unemployed warehouse worker, was "to hit every table."

"I'm just doing whatever I can right now. It's rough," said Bryan, 26, of Winslow. "Hopefully, I'll get something soon."

The monthly government jobs report for September released Tuesday, however, offered a dim view of the U.S. job market. Unemployment fell to 7.2 percent, but only 148,000 jobs were created.

The release of the jobs report was delayed for 2½ weeks by the 16-day government shutdown. Temporary layoffs during the shutdown will probably depress October's job gain.

The discouraging report from the U.S. Labor Department deflated optimism about the country's job market, although the unemployment rate has fallen by 0.4 percentage points since June.

"The job situation is not better, not here in South Jersey," bemoaned Katherine Brown, 56, of Oaklyn, a social services worker who was let go six months ago.

In New Jersey, the unemployment rate dropped for the second straight month in August to 8.5 percent, the lowest level since March 2009.

The job fair was bustling in the grand old building on the White Horse Pike. Recruiters filled two floors and job-seekers of all ages with diverse employment backgrounds waited patiently in line.

Frank Filipek Jr., Camden County director of the state's One-Stop Resource Center, the event's sponsor along with the county Freeholder Board, said some of the 3,050 who showed up were finding promising job leads.

"They're going on more interviews and they're seeing more opportunities," Filipek said. About 125 people were hired as a result of contacts made at a spring job fair, he said.

Missing this year from the job fair was the symbolic bell-ringing sounded during the four previous job fairs when an applicant was hired or scheduled for a second interview.

"We loved the idea and the concept," Filipek said. But "it just became a nuisance. It was a distraction."

Some applicants complained that there were jobs available, but many were part-time positions without benefits. Many said they were desperate and willing to accept less pay.

"I'm willing to take less than I was getting paid three years ago," said Melissa Beatty, 35, of Oaklyn, who was laid off last month by PHH Mortgage in Mount Laurel. She left the job fair disappointed.

The tight job market has discouraged many Americans from looking for work, but not those who spent hours at the Collingswood job fair meeting with recruiters from a range of fields including health care, law enforcement, social service, retail stores, insurance, and the military.

Steve Brown, 54, of Winslow, a laid-off mechanical engineer, said he was "willing to do anything," delivering newspapers or working in a warehouse.

"I've applied for any and every job in South Jersey and Pennsylvania," Brown said.

So, too, did Emilie Robertson, 35, of Wenonah, a substitute teacher. The single mother of a 5-year-old son applied for several positions at convenience stores. "I will work anywhere right now, just to get a paycheck," she said.

Jodi Streitfeld, a recruiter for Excalibur Healthcare in Maple Shade, said she saw many familiar faces from four recent area job fairs and felt their frustration.

"It's a little depressing because you want to help. I wish I could offer them something," she said. "It's a shame."

856-779-3814 @mlburney

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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