Job seekers flock to center

GLENDALE — The Verdugo Job Center on Tuesday reported a sharp spike in job seekers last month, a byproduct of skyrocketing gasoline prices and a crushing housing crisis that has forced thousands to search for work, officials said.

In May, the employment center reported 7,000 clients, 3,000 of whom were first-time visitors to the center. Last year at the same point, the center reported 5,000 clients, manager Judith Sernas said.

“We’ve seen quite a jump,” Sernas said. “Some are looking for a second job, others are recently laid off and looking for training.”

Shadowing the rise in job seekers is Glendale’s unemployment rate, which is now 5.6%, a nearly 1% jump from the same point last year, officials said.

“That’s a pretty unusually high spike in the unemployment rate,” said Don Nakamoto, Glendale’s labor market specialist. “It’s very similar to the L.A. County increase, the California increase and the national increase.”

Los Angeles County’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.7% in May, up from 5.9% in April and 4.9% in May 2007. California’s unemployment rate rose by 1.5% from May 2007 to 6.8% this year, according to the county’s Employment Development Department.

“A lot of that is reflecting the economic slowdown, the rise in oil prices and the drop in consumer confidence,” Nakamoto said. “Locally, there are some impacts from the sub-prime [housing] issue.”

Those working in the banking and mortgage industries, in Glendale and the county at large, are among those hit the hardest by the economic slowdown, he said.

Nearly 7,000 people in Los Angeles County lost finance and insurance jobs, and 10,700 lost construction jobs in May, according to a report released Monday by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp.

Officials are also concerned that another media-related strike could cripple the region, just as Burbank and Glendale are beginning to recover from the three-month Writers Guild of America strike that cost the state $2.1 billion in lost wages and production.

The Screen Actors Guild is currently negotiating with studios to hammer out a new contract before it expires on Monday.

“The county’s job picture is being destabilized by the June 30 expiration of the Screen Actors Guild contract,” said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp.

“While employment in motion picture and sound recording was up by 2,100 jobs from April to May, it was down over the year by 5,700 jobs. The major studios have been hesitant to start work on a film. Many in the industry are saying that a de facto strike is underway.”

The writers strike was still fresh on the mind for some job seekers at the Verdugo center on Tuesday.

Joseph Fine, 37, of Burbank, was laid off two weeks ago from an advertising agency still suffering under the weight of the writers strike.

“It hurt us,” said Fine, who, in addition to setting up interviews at the job center, has also turned to the Internet to help raise money and look for employment.

He is hoping to raise more than $7,000 through valley-of-the-shadow., a blog he created to also write about his true passion, politics, which he hopes will catapult him into a political job.

But Fine’s success may depend on how much he is willing to veer from his desired political path, a conflict many job seekers are also experiencing, Sernas said.

“Some have certain wage expectations that no longer exist, and some want their old job back,” she said. “People might have to compromise.”

To that end, the job center is helping to train clients in basic and technological skills.

Eagle Rock resident Jennifer Chase, 54, is prepared to enter the workforce again after having raised her children and helped bring up her grandchildren.

But she is hampered by poor spelling skills, which she fears could be costly if she does not improve soon.

“All these cover letters and resumes, things that I never used to have to do, I can’t do because I can’t spell,” she said.

“But it’s time now, it’s time for Granny to go back to work.”

 JEREMY OBERSTEIN covers business, politics and the foothills. He may be reached at (818) 637-3215 or by e-mail at jeremy.oberstein@

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