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No Paycheck in the Stocking : Recession: The county has been hard hit by the downturn. There are 28,000 jobless. An increasing number are facing the holidays without work for the first time.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In this season of hope, the harsh reality for thousands of Ventura County workers is Christmas without a job and a new year of uncertainty.

For an increasing number of the county’s 28,000 jobless workers, this will be the first time they have faced the holidays without a paycheck.

Each month hundreds of white-collar employees who once thought themselves immune to the recession--engineers, computer technicians and corporate executives--join farm laborers and construction crews in unemployment lines in Simi Valley and Oxnard.

California has struggled with unusually high unemployment during the nationwide recession. And Ventura County’s 7.6% jobless rate is even higher than the statewide average.

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On a personal level, that means that Ojai electrician Ed Bachelor must wait for today’s mail, hoping it will bring his first unemployment check. Otherwise, his two sons--Keegan, 5, and Trenton, 2--will have no presents on Christmas morning.

“I need that check so Santa can make a last-minute stop,” said the lanky Bachelor, 31, a child hoisted over each shoulder as he left an Oxnard unemployment office last week. “It’s funny how things can really change quick.”

After months of frustration, Christmas morning may dawn brightly for Jeff Imhoff, 28, a materials buyer at a Westlake electronics firm until he was laid off in January. He expects to hear about a new job today.

“I thought I’d get a job in a week,” said Imhoff of Ventura. “But there are a lot of overqualified people out there who are willing to take about anything. I’m feeling almost under-qualified now.”

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At 60, Newbury Park electrical engineer Dennis Dilworth had toiled for four decades, secure in the knowledge that his bosses saw him as a valuable employee. But in June, his Woodland Hills company, which builds computer printers, moved its production plant to Ireland. With it went Dilworth’s $56,000-a-year position.

“It’s hard to believe,” Dilworth said last week. “Everywhere I’ve worked I’ve been well liked and did a good job. It’s just that there’s nothing to do anymore. My whole department’s gone.”

Dilworth said that he and Yvonne, his wife of 35 years, will spend Christmas at their son’s Thousand Oaks home and will be joined by a daughter. But both children also will be out of work soon, Dilworth said. His son’s electronics company disbanded this fall. His daughter’s employer, 3M in Camarillo, is scaling back in April.

“We’re not the kind of people who get down,” Dilworth said. “Our spirits are all right family-wise, but we’re a little disappointed that there’s no work out there.”

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Dilworth, who has sent resumes to 250 employers, recalled a scene at a recent job interview. “It was wild,” he said. “It was a job at a little plastics company in Gardena, and 300 people applied.”

While Dilworth is searching for work, the couple have cut back. Their mortgage payments are reasonable and they own their car, but a $210 weekly unemployment benefit doesn’t stretch far. So they go out to dinner at Denny’s and order the senior-citizen special.

“I used to think that if people are out of a job, there’s always work out there if they’ll just look,” Yvonne Dilworth said. “But when you’re out of a job, it’s like, ‘walk a mile in my shoes.’ ”

Ventura County’s growing unemployment problem is reflected by its October jobless rate of 7.6%, compared to 5.8% a year before. November’s overall figures are not yet available, but officials said new claims last month reached nearly 6,300, about 100 more than in October and 700 more than in November, 1990.

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“We’ve been extremely busy in December,” said Annette Sparks, manager of the state unemployment office in south Oxnard. “We’re getting a lot of people who have been employed for a very long time. Husbands are coming in with children while their wives are working. It’s the first time for that.”

At the north Oxnard unemployment office, the lobby was filled with hard-luck stories last week.

Andres Gomez, 17, an out-of-work restaurant cook, said he was filing for benefits to support his wife and two children. He said he has tried to get minimum-wage jobs, but lost out to high school students.

“They work after school to pay for luxuries, for their car and stuff,” Gomez said. “I need the money I get.”

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Sharon Sparkman, 48, said she embraced her role as wife and mother when she graduated from high school in 1961. Today, two husbands and three children later, she lives in a tiny fifth-wheel trailer in Oxnard and struggles to find any work at all.

“The most frightening part for everybody is what happens when the unemployment runs out,” said Sparkman, without a job since August. “Where do we go after that?”

Countywide, new unemployment claims are up most sharply at the Simi Valley office, where officials estimate that at least 30% of applicants are white-collar workers. New east county claims have climbed from 1,812 a year ago to 2,322 last month.

“We’re probably seeing 200 people a day,” spokeswoman Patricia Baldoni said. “Our lobbies have been full for a long time.”

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Membership in a special Job Club for professional workers has ballooned from 175 to 240, officials said. Members include aerospace engineers, computer-science technicians, corporate executives, and marketing and personnel officers.

Stan, a dapper 50-year-old Simi Valley resident, is a potential member of the club. He lost his job as national sales manager for an insurance company six weeks ago, he said, and applied for jobless benefits for the first time last week as a hedge against prospects in the new year.

Stan, who insisted on anonymity, said he had made about $95,000 annually when commissions were good, but “when you’ve got two kids in college and two car payments, the money can go very, very quickly.”

Dennis Young, a 53-year-old Westlake resident, said he is all too familiar with the Job Club. He has tried for 1 1/2 years, he said, to rebound from his layoff as a director of planning for an international pipe company--a position that paid between $80,000 and $120,000 a year with bonuses.

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Young has sent 700 resumes across the nation, he said. He has tried to avoid any discussion of his past salary.

“Everybody thinks I’m overqualified,” Young said. “My previous salary scares the hell out of them. One lady insisted, and when I told her, she just couldn’t believe it. Thirty years experience at my level and $80,000 is not a lot of money, but people won’t pay it.

“I could always be a consultant,” Young added. “But just open the phone book and see how many consultants there are.”


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