With people choosing to spend less money than in recent years, and employers hiring fewer employees, Ben Strength, a graduate of New Hope Christian College, has found it difficult to obtain a job in Eugene. “Between the substantial number of lay-offs people have dealt with and the way people are holding onto their money, employers seem to have a plethora of highly-qualified applicants. It’s pretty cut throat out there,” says Strength.
Employment numbers were up 3,400 in the Eugene-Springfield area between September and October 2011, as reported by the Oregon Employment Department. It is a positive sign considering the number of employed in October 2010 was 140,900. For the month, employment numbers are up 2.5 percent, and they are up 0.4 percent on the year.
According to the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 16,000 individuals currently unemployed in the Eugene-Springfield area. Having a degree from a religious institution hasn’t held much weight in the application process. Strength says, “I’ve been competing for entry-level jobs with people who not only received their bachelors degrees from state and private institutions, but a lot of them have their master’s and doctorate degrees.” Strength adds, “[It] seems I wasted thousands of dollars on a degree that won’t help me.”
Not wanting to work for a specific church, Strength has been applying for a wide variety of jobs all across Eugene. A previous Starbucks’ employee, Strength adds, “I know I would do well in the coffee industry again. I absolutely loved it, but I don’t want to settle for a minimum wage job when I have all this debt. Between student loans and credit cards, I have a lot to pay.”
But Strength can’t afford wait much longer. Those he owes money to are unrelenting in their attempts to retrieve their money. “I’ve got debt callers calling me so frequently, we know each other by name,” laughs Strength. “I almost got offers to spend Thanksgiving with some of [the debt collectors]. That’s how often they call me and how well they know me.”
Needing an income to keep his debt collectors at bay, Strength has contemplated applying for management positions within the fast food industry. “Heck, if Taco Bell would take me as a manager, it would have to pay a couple of dollars an hour more than minimum wage. I’d be able to live with that,” says Strength. “I wouldn’t be able to spend at will, but at least I’d have my needs met. You just can’t do that on the minimum [wage].” Minimum wage may be all Strength can hope for at this point. According to the Oregon Economic and Revenue Forecast Summary, employment in the state is only up 1.5 percent on the year. “Employment in Oregon in both the second and third quarters was essentially flat following a very strong start to 2011,” according to the summary.
The summary continues, “The labor market is slowly returning to health, although many of Oregon’s rural communities and low-income households have yet to share in the fruit of the economic recovery.” It may just be a matter of time until Strength lands a job. Until then, he will be traveling around Eugene in a suit and tie, resume in hand.