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In Raleigh, North Carolina, 500 Vie for Renaissance Hotel's 200 Positions;
$8- to $14-an-hour Jobs Look Good  / October 2008

By Sue Stock, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Oct. 30, 2008 - One of the busiest storefronts in Raleigh's North Hills shopping center Wednesday wasn't selling anything.

It was taking applications for the 200 positions available at the soon-to-open Renaissance Raleigh Hotel on the edge of the North Hills property.

The jobs spanned all areas of the hotel from front desk jobs to housekeeping to food service. On average, they paid $8 to $14 an hour, but interest was not lacking.

As the normally robust Triangle economy softens, unemployment is rising. In September, about 50,000 people in the Triangle were looking for work, according to the Employment Security Commission.

So any employer with 200 open positions is bound to attract a swarm of applicants.

On Wednesday, the first day of the three-day job fair, 20 people showed up at 6 a.m, an hour before the doors opened.

Even before the job fair, the hotel received more than 300 applications, said hotel manager Bill Gant. By the end of the day at 4 p.m., 500 people had come and gone, leaving their hopes for a new job along with their applications.

Here are five of their stories.

Repeatedly laid off

Marion Anderson knows all about layoffs. In a 10-year period, Anderson worked for IBM, Nortel and Clear Channel and was laid off at all three as they shipped jobs overseas.

Since 2004 she has not had steady work and has been scraping by taking odd jobs and doing things such as upholstering couches for a few hundred dollars.

"I was doing very well, making $70,000 a year," said Anderson, 49. "I went from a $70,000 job to washing windows for $8 an hour."

So far, with her husband's salary from his job at a local printing company, the couple has been able to keep their Raleigh home, though Anderson said she's two months behind on payments.

"I'm down to my last pennies now," she said. "I'm on a hope and a prayer."

Anderson speculates that she may be having trouble finding a job because she is older, doesn't have updated computer skills and has a two-year degree instead of a four-year degree.

"I've always thought your job experience would get you your next job, but it doesn't happen," she said. "All I'm asking is to just give me a little foot in the door."

Out of the Navy

Beverly Settle has been searching for a job since the spring, when she received word that she'd be released for medical reasons from the Navy.

A divorced mom with a 16-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son, she said her $47,000-a-year pension is not enough.

"My son plays football, and my daughter plays basketball, and every time I turn around, they need something," she said.

Out of work for almost half a year, Settle is feeling pressured to find work to supplement her pension.

"I have enough money to pay my bills, but I don't have enough money to feed my children," she said.

The Raleigh resident applied for a front desk job and said she has sent out at least 100 resumes but has not received many phone calls.

The competition from people more qualified or with more work experience can be daunting, she said.

"There's so many people willing to come in and take less -- people with a master's degree, people with business degrees," she said. "I'll go clean the bathroom if they ask me to."

After the accident

Sharon Roberts is pretty much desperate for a job.

In a car accident more than a year ago, Roberts hasn't worked steadily since then.

She and her husband moved from Creedmoor to Raleigh three months ago when they moved to a bigger rental home.

She thought she might have landed a job with a bank, but the bank could only offer her 12 to 16 hours a week, less than she needs.

"Everywhere you go, it's like this -- a lot of people for a few jobs," she said, gesturing to the store full of hopeful applicants.

"Now that Christmas is coming, I'm really stressed out."

With nine children ages 13 to 28, Roberts has tried finding work in sales, retail and banking -- all fields where she has experience.

But, "unless you want to be on the bottom bagging groceries, there is nothing."

Still, the 47-year-old said she has to keep trying so that there can be Christmas in her house this year.

"I'm going up to the mall to apply for some seasonal jobs," she said, departing the job fair and heading to her car.

Application fatigue

David Frankel moved to the Triangle from Baton Rouge, La., a week ago to be closer to an ill family member.

He worked in food service for universities and other groups in Louisiana, but is having trouble finding work here. In just the past week, he said, he has submitted 30 to 40 applications.

"I tried to transfer with my company [The Compass Group], but they didn't have anything in this area," said Frankel, 39. "I've been everywhere."

He has been most frustrated with the online application process, a method more and more employers are using.

"You go online and fill out 1,000 applications, and no one calls you back," he said. "There are companies right down the street from my house, and if you call or go by, they say, 'Have you filled out the application online?' "

With kids ages 2, 6 and 14, Frankel said he needs to find a way to bring in money soon. His wife works only part-time at Starbucks.

"If I don't get something in my field soon, I'll have to just get a few part-time jobs doing something."

Pluses and minuses

In mid-September, Ryan Donahue was laid off from his job as a route manager for a local dry cleaner. The timing was awful: His wife is due to deliver their second child in February.

With her salary from a sales job and $1,400 in monthly unemployment, the family is barely able to cover the monthly bills, gas and groceries.

He considered going back to school because he has a two-year degree, but doing so would disqualify him for unemployment.

Donahue said he feels lucky because they have no credit card debt. Still, not having a job is straining their finances.

On Wednesday, the 31-year-old stumbled across the job fair at North Hills on an outing with his 18-month-old daughter and decided to fill out an application.

Any job he takes would have to pay $28,000 or more, Donahue said, because the job would have to pay more than day care would cost.

"I try to stay positive," he said. "Being depressed doesn't solve problems. I get to spend all day with my beautiful daughter, and that is definitely a plus."

sue.stock@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4649

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