Employment Picture Tough To Figure

The post-Katrina job market is hard to figure. On the one hand many companies are looking to hire. That much is evident from all the Help Wanted signs. But still, Harrison County's unemployment rate is the highest in Mississippi.

It's tough to make sense of it all. But there are some obvious factors. Things like the type of work available, discriminating job seekers and an extension of unemployment benefits are all part of the mix.

"Our primary function is to increase employment in Mississippi," said Al Brooken with the WIN Job Center in Gulfport.

Prospective employees filled the parking lot for a job fair at the Gulfport center on Tuesday.

WIN is the state's "Workforce Investment Network." It's a one stop shop for anyone seeking a job.

"Whether it's employment, retraining, unemployment insurance, vocational rehabilitation, veteran's services. A lot of different things that goes on here," Brooken explained.

"So, tell me what kind of work you'd be most happy with, do you think?" asked Frank Yacenda, as he interviewed another client.

Matching companies with qualified workers is Yacenda's job. His personnel agency helps screen prospective workers for openings in the construction business, service industry and light industrial.

"A lot of people are not ready to go back to work yet. Either because they're still recovering from the storm, or they're collecting unemployment, or whatever," he said.

"You go from eight for the first week, to eleven, then you go to twelve fifty," explained the employer to a prospective hire.

Former casino worker, Donna Robinson-Ainsworth, probably isn't a good match for the assemby line worker opening she's learning about. She's applying for many jobs, but won't take just any offer.

"I'm a little finicky. Because I'm looking for a certain time of the day to work, days of the week to work, 'cause I've got a daughter and I'm active in her life. So, I don't want the late night shift. And the dollar amount matters," she said.

The latest figures for March show the unemployment rate is 15 percent in Harrison County. That's the highest in the state. But those involved with matching employers and employees say the outlook is improving.

"The workforce is coming back. And I think eventually we'll get back down to the single digits. Hopefully," said Brooken.

Employers with openings to fill may find a larger pool of prospective workers come June third. That's when the extension for disaster unemployment benefits expires.