Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

For long-term unemployed, search for job filled with frustration

WAYNE HEILMAN Updated: November 16, 2012 at 12:00 am

The national recession may have formally ended more than three years ago, but the downturn lingers on for more than 28,000 Colorado Springs area residents who remain out of work.

The area’s unemployment rate of 9.3 percent in September, the latest month for which statistics are available, was higher than the 9 percent rate in June 2009, when the National Bureau of Economic Research said the last recession had ended. Although the area’s unemployment rate fell in both August and September, it did so only because more than 3,000 people left the job market. The local jobless rate has remained at nearly 9 percent or above since April 2009 and is well above the state’s 8 percent rate and the nation’s 7.8 percent rate for September.

For those who have been out of work for months, finding a job remains a frustrating exercise of filling out dozens, if not hundreds of online applications and getting little or no response. The Gazette interviewed four area residents who have been unemployed for at least five months to tell their stories and will follow their job search in the coming months. They include: Lorraine Peterson, who was laid off when Intel closed its semiconductor manufacturing plant in Colorado Springs in 2008; Anne Akers-Lewis, who was laid off by Lexis-Nexis in 2009; Marla Thompson, who lost her job with Hewlett-Packard in 2010 when the company moved its sales operation to New Mexico; and Kevin Baxter, who lost his job with ITT-Exelis in June.

'I am adaptable and trainable'

Anne Akers-Lewis, 49, had worked 22 years for the Lexis-Nexis legal publishing operation in Colorado Springs before she was laid off in early 2009 when the company outsourced the work to the Philippines.

She used federal retraining benefits she received to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs nearly a year ago in health care science with an emphasis in health and wellness promotion. But she hasn’t been able to find a full-time job in her new field after applying for more than two dozen positions ranging from health educator and strength and conditioning instructor to senior care assistant and programming coordinator at an assisted living care center. Akers-Lewis was eligible for the retraining benefits under a 1974 federal law to help workers whose jobs are moved overseas.

“I had a short stint this summer teaching a group fitness class one hour a week at the Woodland Park Parks and Recreation Department and I have done some substituting as an instructor for that class, and I have volunteered at the U.S. Taekwondo Center and with erosion control from the Waldo Canyon fire, but I am getting to the point when I am really ready to work,” Akers-Lewis said. “I feel optimistic and am just going to continue to apply for jobs. I am adaptable and trainable and could do a number of different things with my degree.”

Akers-Lewis’ husband lost his job at Penrose Hospital a month after she was laid off and was out of work for 1½ years before getting a job with the Colorado Department of Health in 2010 and moving last year to a medical laboratory scientist position with University Hospital in Aurora. Her long job search has meant Akers-Lewis and her husband have been forced to live on just his salary and prompted her to pass up some networking opportunities in Colorado Springs because she couldn’t afford the gasoline to drive from their home north of Woodland Park.

“We have had to cut back and that makes it a challenge to look for work,” Akers-Lewis said. “I often worry whether I have enough gas to make it home, so I don’t go to Colorado Springs as much as I would like so we don’t completely deplete the little bit of savings we have.”

Finding only part-time work

Lorraine Peterson, 54, was among more 1,000 workers who lost their jobs when Intel Corp. closed its Colorado Springs semiconductor manufacturing plant in 2008 after selling the product line produced at the plant to another company that then shifted production to Taiwan.

Peterson had worked at Intel for 2½ years after spending 10 years working at Atmel Corp.’s chip manufacturing plant in the Springs. She also spent 20 years working for NAPA Auto Parts in both Colorado Springs and Ohio. Like Akers-Lewis, Peterson was eligible for retraining help and used those benefits to earn an associate’s degree in computer information systems from Pikes Peak Community College in May 2011, hoping to find a job working on a computer help desk or another entry-level information technology job.

Since getting her degree, Peterson has applied for about 400 jobs and had at least 40 interviews but received no job offers. She has only been able to find part-time work, first as a security guard earlier this year and as a crossing guard since September for two hours a day at an elementary school in southeast Colorado Springs. Peterson stopped receiving unemployment benefits two years ago, so she and her husband now live on his salary, living on a tight budget so that they don’t fall behind on their mortgage payments in the final three years of the loan.

“I have been looking for work in the computer field, but haven’t found anything yet because there are so many people in this field with experience that are also looking for work,” Peterson said. “I need a career more than just a job. I really believe that my skills could help a company.”

Peterson said she has been attending workshops at the Women’s Resource Center and the Pikes Peak Workforce Center to get help on preparing a better resume and cover letter and plans on participating in mock interviews to sharpen her interviewing skills.

Living off savings

Kevin Baxter, 55, had been a project manager at ITT Exelis for 15 months when he lost his job in June while caring for his wife when she was successfully treated for cancer.
Baxter’s 27-year military contracting career includes a year  as chief of support for military contractor Harris Corp. at a satellite tracking center in Greenland, 18 years working on a satellite control network for Honeywell’s aerospace and defense operations and 3½ years with Ford Aerospace, which later became part of Lockheed Martin. He will soon begin a five-month training program in information assurance through a special training program for veterans, stemming from his 10 years as a radar technician for the Air Force.

Baxter has applied for 110 jobs and recently had an interview with one of his former employers. He is living off savings he accumulated while working in Greenland and has been attending a homeland security career group through the Retired Enlisted Association to network and improve his interviewing skills.

“I have a lot of experience in the defense contracting industry and it is discouraging to send out a lot of resumes and not hear anything, but I have found the best thing to do is use the best-known job sites like to see who is hiring, but apply for the jobs on the employer’s website. That seems to improve your chances of getting noticed,” Baxter said.

Three layoffs in eight years

Marla Thompson, 51, had worked in the federal sales operation of Hewlett-Packard Co. in Colorado Springs for 5½ years before she was laid off in 2010 when the technology giant shifted that work to New Mexico.

The layoff was the third in the eight years for Thompson, who previously lost her job with defense contractor Titan Corp. when it was acquired in 2005 by L-3 Communications and was among 400 who lost their jobs in 2002 when personal computer manufacturer Gateway Inc. shut down its technical support center in the Springs.

Thompson had received a master’s degree in business administration from University of Phoenix two years before she was laid off by HP, but didn’t find the degree much help when she was competing with out-of-work project managers who were veterans with classified clearances.

“There are so many MBA graduates out there, I am considering taking that off my resume, but it seems ridiculous to do that,” Thompson said. “I just want to work in my field. I have fought going back into sales because I am so overqualified for sales jobs now, but it would be a last resort.”

Since some of the HP jobs were sent off-shore, Thompson qualified for the same training help Akers-Lewis and Peterson received and earned a certificate in government contracting from Webster University. She has since enrolled in additional classes toward a second master’s degree in procurement and acquisition.

Thompson has applied for about 100 jobs in the past two years and completed a handful of interviews but has yet to land a government contracting job. She has been supporting herself and her disabled husband by cashing in her retirement accounts since her unemployment benefits ran out in March. She has focused on reducing debt while she looks for work, but will exhaust her retirement savings by mid-2013 if she doesn’t land a job before then.

Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234 Twitter @wayneheilman
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