One job, six days, 682 applicants

COSTA MESA — The duties aren't glamorous and neither is the pay.

An entry-level office specialist — who answers phones, files, copies and faxes — could expect to make between $15.70 and $21.04 an hour at the Costa Mesa Sanitary District.

But in this economy, and with the state unemployment rate at 12%, that job drew 682 applicants.

In six days.

"We've seen applications where people have a master's degree, were previous supervisors and managers," said Scott Carroll, general manager for the sanitary district. "This is an office specialist, a very entry-level position. Front office answering phones and front counter work. It doesn't require a master's degree or a college degree."

But it's slim pickings out there, so the unemployed will try just about any field that can earn a paycheck.

The job also was the first time the sanitary district accepted online applications. The sanitary district's want ads were posted on various websites.

"It's indicative of the very national recession we've experienced," said Esmael Adibi, chief economist at Chapman University in Orange. "Part of it is frustration by job-seekers. They'll shoot for anything, whether they're underqualified, overqualified or not qualified."

Usually employers don't hire people who are overqualified, he said.

"They know the person is applying out of desperation, and as the economy improves and other jobs open up, the person is not going to stay," Adibi said.

The desperation of applicants appears to be more pronounced in this recession compared with those that struck in the early 1990s and in other times.

"[The recession] is much more drastic than what was going on in previous recessions. It's deeper. Job losses are extremely high," Adibi said. "Those looking for jobs are so discouraged, so disappointed they can't find work, they're sending their résumés to practically anything."

Carroll said sanitary district officials were initially concerned they would struggle to fill positions since renegotiating employee pensions. New hires will pay more toward their pensions, which accumulates at a slower rate than before.

But pension reform or not, the public sector is still appealing, Adibi said.

A defined retirement program and health benefits are attractive, especially when there's concerns about Social Security's solvency in the future for private-sector workers.

A second job listing, for an entry-level sewer maintenance worker for $18.22 to $24.42 an hour, also received a wave of applicants — 134 through Monday.

A listing about this time last year for a lead maintenance worker position had 30 applicants.

"To be honest, I didn't expect this kind of response," Carroll said. "Definitely it's a little more work for us going through all the applications. You feel it out there. People are struggling and that's why they're applying."

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