Left in line waiting for a job

Oregon’s unemployment rate continues to prove troublesome. As a recent college graduate and a newcomer to Oregon, I, like many others, have found the job market impenetrable, with my supposed keys – education and experience – being rejected at every door.

The reality of Oregon’s job market is something that has affected everyone who has lived here at one time or another, whether indirectly or directly. After getting their undergrad degrees, some of my friends who had originally intended to stay in Portland eventually left for more job-friendly cities. After graduating I had moved back to Southern California, where the job market was coincidentally much friendlier and the jobs much more stable. As during college I had worked on my college campus and in LA during breaks, I had yet to see firsthand just how bad the Oregon economy was.

Unemployment in Oregon began its climb before 9/11. It stood at a seasonally adjusted rate of 6.8 percent in August 2001 and continued to climb. By Jan. 5, 2002, when President Bush visited Portland and spoke to Oregon workers urging action on the economic plan, Oregon’s seasonally adjusted rate was actually 8.3 percent – substantially higher than the national rate of 5.8 percent Bush cited in his speech. Despite his call for action and his promises for improvement, the following year the annual unemployment rate for Oregon still lingered at a miserable 8.2 percent.

Returning to both Oregon and the issue on Oct. 15, 2004 Bush stated, "the unemployment rate across our country is 5.4 percent, lower than the average of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Here in Oregon I understand that some of the areas are lagging behind, but we’re making progress. This state has added more than 40,000 jobs since January of 2002."

Despite the bravado of Bush’s statements, the statistics paint a different picture. Once again, his speech referred to the national rate, rather than the rate in Oregon. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose from 6.8 percent in July to 7.4 percent in August 2004. In November 2004, it stood down slightly at 7.1 percent.

According to PSU’s Population Research Center’s statistics, the population in Oregon has increased by 41,000 people since July 2003 alone, for a total estimate of 3,582,600 people in 2004. Against the reality of population increase and Oregon’s persistently high unemployment rate, 40,000 jobs does not stand up well when one is speaking of a time span of several years. Not affirming any sense of optimism in the least, Oregon’s employment department’s own website currently states that job creation currently remains "flat." Beware all ye who enter here.

This last September when I returned to Portland for graduate school, I slowly but surely lost the assurance that the California market offered. Even part-time entry-level jobs were being fought over by dozens of overqualified candidates. Employers would call for phone interviews, claim they were "going out the door" and promise to call back in an hour but never would. Frustration and resentment ensued at the passive rejection and the waste of time and energy. Interviewing in Portland began to strangely resemble bad dating, as if one could take a script from "Sex and the City" and substitute the word "employer" for the name of a potential romantic prospect. "He said he would call me back, but he never did!"

Not only are the odds stacked against job seekers, but employers have also grown passive-aggressive. Perhaps fearing to upset people scrambling for work, perhaps out of the belief that it’s "just business," employers have grown increasingly less direct when passing on candidates. Form rejection is now common, the worst type being mass emails with attachments titled "no-hire" that one must open in order to be rejected.

While the number of candidates might justify the need to reject en masse, passive-aggressive hiring practices like setting up fake call back times are blatantly disrespectful and forever turn off qualified prospects to applying to those businesses again.

The new attitude of the Oregon job market has also affected interviews. Interviewing has become less like relationship building (where a qualified candidate might at least be kept on file for a future position) and more like speed dating, except with dozens of candidates and only a few prospects. In this market, it seems one must hope for the minimal: an actual direct yea or nay from a potential employer.

Etiquette aside, ultimately the economy remains the main problem. With little improvement since the promises of 2002, the question remains whether the next four years will see much improvement.