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Hundreds apply for 75 jobs at Shops of Wiregrass

WESLEY CHAPEL — Sarah Rouleau almost couldn't talk about it without crying.

"I've been working since I was 14," said the Plant City resident, who has been living with her mother since being laid off two years ago. Her position with a food service company paid her six figures. "I've never had any trouble finding job. It's depressing."

And at 47, with no health insurance and a 401(k) that she watched evaporate, Rouleau was willing to wait in line on the sidewalk to win one of 75 coveted jobs at the Shops at Wiregrass.

Along with hundreds of others.

The line, which started forming a half-hour before the job fair began Wednesday beside the Fat Ink Tattoo shop, included a mix of ages, backgrounds and interview outfits.

Clothes ranged from 20-year-old Jonathan Seays' gray suit and tie to a teenage girl's denim cutoffs. One girl asked if she could bring her Toto-sized dog inside with her.

"Thank you for dressing up," a Sunglass Hut manager told Seays when he sat down.

Mall officials described the turnout as healthy. A similar event in June also drew several hundred applicants, said Greg Lenners, the mall's general manager.

The mall is 94 percent leased, which provides a good opportunity for job seekers, he said.

"That's a good (occupancy) rate even in good times," he said.

The jobs varied from part-time clerks to assistant managers. Dillard's was looking mainly for full-timers.

"Do you want a career and not just a job?" its flier said. "Dillard's offers an employee discount, health benefits and 401(k) to eligible associates."

That sounded good to Karen Allen, 38, of Tampa, who was laid off in January from a public relations job at MacDill Air Force Base after working there 10 years.

Finding work has been tough.

"I've never applied at the mall," she said.

As for whether it will get easier anytime soon, the numbers aren't encouraging. Pasco County's unemployment rate was stuck at 12 percent for August, the second highest in the Tampa Bay area. Hernando County checked in at 13.9 percent, according to the state Agency for Workforce Innovation.

Though the construction industry has been on a downward spiral for five years, careers in retail are making a comeback.

"Retail trade in Pasco County has returned to the health of 2007, although it is one of the lower paying sectors," said David Hamilton, operations manager for the Pasco Hernando Workforce Board.

He said health care has continued to add jobs, while public administration employment also has come down. Other fields are "floating around at the same level."

The one-stop career centers that the regional agency operates are also seeing more traffic as people's unemployment benefits expire. For those who still are eligible, new rules have required more online access as recipients are required to document job searches.

"We're seeing about 40 percent more traffic in our offices," he said. "There are folks hurting out there."

For those who lost jobs after years of steady employment, Hamilton said it's especially difficult.

"They're looking at a new world out there and trying to figure out how they fit into it," he said.

Rouleau, who lost her home after losing her job, is one of those people. She has applied everywhere, she said, with no callbacks.

Some days she grabs a stack of resumes, gets in her car and knocks on doors. Most tell her to apply online.

"Some of those online applications take two hours," she said.

Rouleau, now out of work for two years, resents the stereotypes associated with the "long-term unemployed."

"With everything you hear on the news, I'm lazy now."

She's willing to do anything one of these store managers asks to earn a paycheck.

"I'll mop floors," she said. "It's getting scary."

Hundreds apply for 75 jobs at Shops of Wiregrass 09/28/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 9:40pm]

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