A brutal job market has been surprisingly productive for Tiffany Price, who makes a living off employers who can’t find workers.
“Everyone here is struggling to find people,’’ Price said from the floor of the job fair she organized recently in West Palm Beach, where more than two-dozen companies paid about $850 each to set up hiring tables and pitch their jobs to some 3,800 attendees. “There are definitely jobs out there.”
Price’s busy days in the help-wanted industry as the sales manager at the Fort Lauderdale office for Job News USA capture both the promise and the many soft spots of South Florida’s modest hiring recovery. Employment numbers released Friday revealed slow job growth in Broward and Miami-Dade, along with signs that workers are leaving the labor force faster than employers are hiring.
Both counties’ unemployment rates did improve in August, but only because fewer people were looking for work.
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Broward’s drop from 8.1 percent in July to 7.8 percent in August and Miami-Dade’s from 9.5 percent to 9.2 percent both came despite a drop in people describing themselves in government surveys as “employed.’’
In Miami-Dade, Florida’s largest local economy, the number of employed people dropped by 5,000 but the labor force itself dropped by 10,000. That allowed Miami-Dade’s unemployment rate to dip even if employment itself dropped, too.
Statewide, Florida’s jobless rate followed a similar trend: the unemployment rate stalled at 8.8 percent, but improvement came thanks to a shrinking labor force rather than a growth in employment.
A shrinking labor force often gets explained as a sign of the jobless giving up hope they can find work, and the line spilling into the parking lot for the Job News fair hardly looked encouraging for attendees.
So many job seekers arrived that Price had to play bouncer at the hotel ballroom where it was held, allowing five people inside for every 10 people who left. “We had a little complaint from the fire marshal,’’ she said.
The crush of hopefuls at the West Palm Beach Marriott reflected a job market with more than double the number of unemployed people than five years ago, in the run-up to the recession. Friday’s report recorded 196,000 people as officially unemployed in Broward and Miami-Dade, with Palm Beach County adding another 59,000.
That’s far fewer than the peak in 2010 and 2011 of about 323,000 unemployed workers for the tri-county area.
Sean Sweet counted himself in the jobless category, and found no encouragement from the 28 tables of employers renting space at the fair. The 38-year-old pharmacist lost his job at the start of the summer in a downsizing move, and now he’s volunteering his time helping with medicine at shelters for the poor. He arrived at the fair with little hope of finding a position in his field, and said he also struck out looking for an entry-level job to pay his bills.
“They look at my résumé and they say, ‘Doctorate? ‘Master’s?’ Here you go,’ ’’ Sweet said, mimicking an employer handing back his résumé. “It shows you what’s happening with the economy if you go from making $120,000 a year to nothing.’’
Sweet ran into a problem faced by many of the recently unemployed: even if they’re willing to take low-paying jobs, employers may be looking for someone else.
“We’re constantly hiring,’’ said Marissa McLean, recruiting manager for the Check Cashing Store, which offered candy bars, can insulators and mint trays at its Job News table. “It’s harder than you might think.”
For $9.50-an-hour jobs as Check Cashing clerks, McLean looks for past cashier experience and an ability to up-sell customers to the chain’s credit cards and other offerings. “I’m seeing teachers. I’m seeing truckers. I’m seeing plumbers,’’ she said of the chain’s applicants during the downturn. “That’s not what I’m looking for.”
For Price, 29, the job fairs she manages roughly every month throughout South Florida show that work is available, even if the paychecks aren’t ideal. The married mother of a 2-year-old is brutally optimistic about the hiring market, saying she can find a position for anyone willing to pursue it. And she sees people getting discouraged too quickly, especially when they strike out at a Job News fair.
“People get so exasperated,’’ she said. Asked what advice she would give to someone out of work for an extended period of time, Price responds: “Everyone has a friend of a friend of a friend. You need to network and use the resources you have. Even if it’s a cashier at Publix. Ask, ‘Are you guys hiring here?’ ’’
“Be nice to everybody,’’ she added. “You never know who might be able help you. You never know where the conversation might lead.”
Price came to Job News in 2005 from her old position managing a telemarketing operation in Davie, selling solar-powered pool heaters to homeowners over the phone. Price would run ads in the Job News circulars for staff rather than turning to local newspapers — despite their larger circulation.
It was the start of the housing boom in the early 2000s, when unemployment was around 5 percent. “If you were picking up anything but the paper to find a job at that time, it meant you were hungry,’’ Price recalled. “Because all you had to do was pick up the newspaper to find a job.”
Eventually, she jumped ship to Job News itself as a sales representative, meaning she cold-called businesses in hopes of selling help-wanted ads. Sales were good until the recession hit in 2008. By 2009, Price wasn’t making enough so she quit and went to culinary school. After a brief stint as a personal chef, Price headed back to Job News in 2010, just as hiring was rebounding in the region.
Despite record unemployment, Price said demand for job fairs has been strong enough that she’s constantly looking for venues with more space for tables. A July federal report found employers actually should be finding it harder to fill positions than at any time during the downturn and recovery, with 3.5 unemployed people for every job opening nationwide, down from 6.2 unemployed people for every opening in June 2009.
Price said she only seeing demand increase from her clients. A fair set for Oct. 17 in Davie’s Signature Grand is on track to rent a record 60 tables, Price said, without much push from the Job News sales staff.
“If you’re willing to take something out of your field, you’re going to find a job,’’ she said. “They might not be able to find what they’re looking for. But there are opportunities.”