Ore. unemployment drops; still rough job hunt

Ore. unemployment drops; still rough job hunt
Marshall Chicha searches for employment at WorkSource Oregon, Tuesday, March 16, 2010, in Tualatin, Ore. Photo courtesy Rick Bowmer, Associated Press.

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Oregon's economy may be turning toward recovery, as state economists predicted Tuesday, but that hasn't changed the employment landscape for job hunters like Marshall Chicha.

Chicha spent Tuesday morning as he has many mornings - scanning the job postings at a state employment center in Tualatin. An experienced salesman laid off last June from a job he'd held for more than a decade, Chicha has sent his resume out and walked into dozens of businesses without a job offer.

"This is a huge roller-coaster," the 50 year old from Portland said. "You come in one day and there's a few jobs that you can apply for. The next day, there's nothing."

But jobs are starting to return, state officials say.

Unemployment in Oregon fell slightly in February to 10.5 percent - 0.2 percent lower than in January, according to Oregon Employment Department figures released Tuesday. The rate has been essentially unchanged for several months.

Nationally, unemployment was 9.7 percent in January and February.

Last month, 220,932 Oregonians were unemployed, compared to 232,225 in February 2009. Thousands more are not counted because they have taken part-time work, have given up searching for full-time jobs or have used up their jobless benefits.

Most major industries performed near their normal seasonal pattern in February, officials say. After grim months that saw Oregon's unemployment among the nation's worst, even that small gain felt like a victory.

"It's likely that when we're able to look back and paint a clearer picture of the recession and the recovery, we'll find early 2010 was a turning point," said state economist Amy Vander Vilet. "It will be bumpy. We'll see some losses, some gains.

"But the trend I see now is we're going in the right direction."

State officials caution that the economic rebound will be slow and gradual.

At the state's employment centers, the daily routines of determination, hope and frustration flowed on.

Jeremiah Kraush has been searching for work since last June, when he graduated from Tualatin High School. The 18-year-old, scrolling through job postings at the WorkSource Center, is under pressure to find work so he can move from his parents' house.

He's willing take almost any work, but hasn't landed an interview.

"Anything that doesn't need a lot of experience, that's willing to teach me," Kraush said. "Restaurants. I love to cook."

Food services haven't rebounded from the economic hit it took in 2008. The industry lost 1,400 jobs since last year.

Chicha finished his computer work nearby. Unemployment benefits could keep him afloat for another year, but Chicha said he was thinking about leaving his native state to find work.

For now, there was another promising opening in Portland - this one for a sales representative. He had submitted his resume.

A year's worth of job-hunting disappointments kept Chicha's enthusiasm in check.

"You could be excited about sending out a resume, but there's 400 others who are doing the same thing," he said.

"It's hard to stay positive."