Monday, February 2, 2004

Challenges don't slow Work Resource Center

Finding a job: Agency assists unemployed

By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FOREST PARK - The mission for the Work Resource Center is simple enough: find work for disabled or disadvantaged people in Greater Cincinnati.

The mission for Corey Flanagan, who landed a job last year at Joseph Northland Porsche Audi, is pretty straightforward, too.

Save enough money to buy a truck.

"That's what I'm hoping to do," said Flanagan, a 23-year-old Silverton resident who details high-dollar cars at the dealership.

Flanagan is one of thousands of local residents who have found employment or training through the efforts of local companies and the private, nonprofit center, which was founded in the early 1970s as a resource for companies and job seekers.

David Dreigh, 34, director of work services for the center, said that Flanagan is building experience, establishing a track record of conscientious employment and showing up for work on time every day. Those qualities will serve him well in the years to come.

The biggest challenge for the agency in recent years is finding steady work for people who are at the low end of the hourly wage scale because new jobs that pay livable wages and benefits are not commonplace here or anywhere else.

Also, the individuals who seek work through the center are people who do not have an employment history, Dreigh said.

"We are working with people with disabilities, and they typically have little or no work experience and no education beyond a high school diploma," he said.

When the economy skids, low-wage jobs are the first to go. But they are also the type of jobs that are the first to bounce back when a slow-growth economy begins to pick up speed, Dreigh said.

And that may be beginning to happen, particularly in the construction sector where initiative and on-the-job training can pay dividends for workers.

While Flanagan found and has hung onto his job last year, that is not necessarily the case for others in Greater Cincinnati.

A new study from the National Urban League indicates that African-Americans are being affected more than white Americans in the so-called jobless recovery that dates to last year.

The report found that the December 2003 unemployment rate for African-Americans was 10.3 percent and has been in the double-digits for the past 14 months. And the climate is not getting any better, the report found.

The President's Council of Economic Advisors predicted 1.8 million jobs would be generated in the last half of 2003 as a result of tax cuts.

The council predicted that the economy would create 215,000 jobs each month, yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics from June 2003 through December 2003, only 220,000 jobs were gained in that six-month period.

"What is most troubling to me," said Marc H. Morial, National Urban League president and chief executive, "is that the number of long-term unemployed is at a 20-year high.

"And the loss of manufacturing jobs is having a significant impact on African-Americans. It's hurting everyone but it is clearly hitting African-Americans harder. We need to filter all policies through the prism of 'will it create more jobs.' "

Travis Frazier, service manager, said the dealership is so pleased with Flanagan's performance that it hopes to hire more workers from the resource center in the months to come.

"He is a good, solid worker and he's always working," Frazier said. "He shows up on time. He's honest, independent and knows his job duties. We're looking for more people just like him."

Flanagan is looking for something, too, and hopes to find it by this time next month: a car or, perhaps, a mini-truck.

That would make getting to work a lot easier.

Right now, it's tough to get from Silverton to Forest Park by his 7 a.m. starting time. Flanagan has to set his alarm for 3 a.m. He catches the No. 20 Metro bus downtown. After a wait, he transfers to the No. 4 bus for the ride out to the northern suburbs.

Once at work, he cleans and waxes cars as if they were his own.

At 5 p.m., he reverses the route home. A mini-truck would not only get him to work, it would also give him opportunities to catch weekend jobs, he said, maybe hauling or other labor that requires a truck.

The Urban League's Morial said Flanagan is a good example of how some people must work through some pretty tough odds just to get along, just to stay employed.

"So many people are taking care of their basic needs," Morial said. "The loss of manufacturing and better paying jobs is an economic restructuring that doesn't hold positive, long-term prospects for the nation."



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