ST. PETERSBURG — Looking weary and resigned, Chris Carrow, 62, stood away from the bustle of the Sunshine Center's job fair Friday morning. She'd worked in the banking industry until three weeks ago. Now Carrow said she's looking for "just anything I can get."
She's not the only one in that position. Carrow was one of several hundred people at a job fair for workers 45 and older at the Sunshine Center on Friday morning. By the time the job fair opened at 8:30 a.m., there was already a line at the door.
Many were disappointed that only about a dozen companies were inside, and many of them didn't have a lot of jobs to offer. Looking around at the vendors, which included the AARP, Avon and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Carrow said, "It's pretty sparse. It's not very hopeful."
"This is kind of a bust,'' said Robert Morris, 48, of Pinellas Park, a former IT worker who said he was laid off about a year ago and has been looking for work ever since.
The imbalance played to vendors' favor. "It's busy, it's great," said Leslie King, who was there promoting temporary jobs with Goodwill. "Sometimes when we go to a job fair, there's not that much traffic."
The demand was so high for jobs that some employers ran out of applications and had to get copies made.
King found the diversity of the job seekers striking. "We've seen professional, we've seen labor, we've seen light industrial, and medical," she said.
Carol Radin of the St. Petersburg Office of Aging organized the event. She said it was clear that the tight job market is causing problems for everyone. "I expected to see a low-income group, but if you look, you see people from all walks of life," she said.
Radin said she wished she could've gotten more vendors. She was glad she had pulled off the event, but looking around the bustling room, she said, "I don't know how many of these people will get jobs.'' She plans to try a similar fair sometime in May and hopes that with more planning time and a precedent of drawing big crowds, she'll be able to attract more employers.
Valerie Wilcox, also working the Goodwill desk, said that for their company, age makes no difference in potential employment. "We have so many programs to help so many different people," she said. "We're just gathering applications, and then we'll match them with jobs."
But many older job seekers said they've found age to be a huge factor. Vicky Norbert, 52, worked most recently as a treasury analyst and consultant for Marriott Corp.
She keeps getting told that she's overqualified, but she thinks that's often "a code word for 'You're too old,' " she said.
Carrow said being older is "a distinct disadvantage" in the job market and that employers don't see the value in hiring older people. "I think there's a lot of ageism out there," she said.
Carrow said older workers have a lot to offer. "They have a better work ethic, they're more dependable, I think they're more loyal," she said.
Morris is determined to keep working through the frustration until he lands a job. "Things will get better," he said. "It's just not fun right now."