Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stockton Job Fair

Stockton, California is the national epicenter of home foreclosures. Situated in the heart of the fertile "Big Valley," Stockton was traditionally an agricultural center.

In the 1990's, Stockton was promoted as a bedroom community for high-tech workers in the San Francisco Bay Area and home construction boomed. Despite the nightmarish two hour commute (each way,) lower echelon workers jumped at the chance of owning a part of the American dream at half the price of Bay Area homes.

But the slowing economy of 2007, escalating gasoline prices and stagnant wages killed the dreams of many of Stockton homeowners by 2008. By the time the economy collapsed in September, one in ten Stockton homes would be in foreclosure. To add insult to injury, Stocktonites would be blamed for igniting the national economic crises via sub-prime loans.

A victim of my own stupidity as much as the economy, I moved to Stockton in August 2008 and have been looking for a job ever since. I've learned the hard way that low real estate prices are the result of few (and low-paying) jobs. Lack of jobs is what creates ghost towns.

Sacramento television station KRCA advertised an upcoming Job Fair in Stockton for more than a month. (Oddly, or not, there is no television station in Stockton.) When the big day finally came, I printed up a dozen or so resumes and headed down to the Stockton Grand Hotel along with my son and his girlfriend. None of us hoped for much and we weren't disappointed.

The activity was scheduled for noon to five and we arrived mid-day on the dot to take our place in a line already one thousand strong. Another thousand lined up behind us before we took our first step forward about fifteen minutes later. We were still a block from the door after half an hour. More people were lining up behind us.

After more than an hour, as we neared the entrance to the hotel, a KCRA cameraman started filming the queue. Just then, a young lady behind us walked toward the camera and then collapsed. Hotel security called an ambulance and the whole scene was taped. It looked like the TV station was going to get a bigger story than planned.

At the front door, we were allowed inside as part of a group of about 15 people. Our objective turned out to be a tiny conference room upstairs crowded by 21 employer tables. Nine employers were government agencies, probably convinced to show up just to fill space. The City of Stockton and San Joaquin County were there, but I knew from their websites they had nothing of value to offer.

With the State of California $42 billion in debt and the comptroller pondering IOU's instead of tax return checks, the Highway Patrol was just blocking navigational space.

Of course, the Army and Air Force reserves were there and the Federal Bureau of Prisons along with the Border Patrol. There is still a bright future for head knockers! I looked around for FEMA or Homeland Security but couldn't find them. Maybe that's a good thing.

Had we merely been interested in pick-pocketing, the California Franchise Tax Board was represented but I doubt they really had any jobs available.

Afflac, the insurance company with the annoying duck mascot, was there but only recruiting independent salespeople. Apparently, you have to pay them to train you to sell their products.

Speaking of paying, Kaplan College (not really a college) would train you to be a dental assistant for the right price. Artistically gifted folks could even pay to learn advertising from some outfit calling themselves the International Academy of Design.

There were a couple of medical associations I had never heard of who offered a few jobs in the highly-regulated and licensed "careers" of low-paid medical flunkies.

The concession contractor for Yosemite National Park (Delaware North Companies Parks and Resorts) offered only seasonal, minimum wage jobs. Yosemite is two hours away.

F&M Bank ("California's Strongest Bank") claimed to have several positions from teller to loan assistant. But a later check of their website says there are no positions available. Hell, they're probably broke, anyway.

McDonald's, Burger King and Rite-Aide were there claiming to be looking for "managers."

By this point I was pretty disgusted with the whole affair which I considered a sham and a facade erected for evening news propaganda. Nine tables were government, two wanted money and nine more had nothing substantial on offer (a radio station co-hosted the event and offered a single part-time job handing out bumper stickers.)

There was one table left. The Wine Group claimed to have electrical and mechanical jobs that might fit my experience, but the ladies at the booth had no technical expertise to answer my questions. I dropped off a resume which they duly stamped and placed in a small pile.

An hour and a half in line followed by half an hour milling about the tables netted me one resume drop. My son and his girlfriend each dropped three. As we left we noted the line now stretched down the block, around the corner, down the block again, around another corner and down the block yet again! I estimate around five thousand people attended on the day. Stockton population is about 300,000 -- you do the math.

The family gathered around the TV for the six-o'clock news, (link is video prior to event) hoping to see ourselves. KCRA congratulated the success of their Job Fair featuring "more than twenty" employers. They expressed surprise at the size of the turnout of "thousands of job seekers."

We didn't see ourselves or the unfortunate young lady who collapsed during the long wait.

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