Saturday, April 21, 2018
Business

In Hernando, it's still hard to find a job

Here's a news flash from Spring Hill resident Victoria Hill: Despite what you might have heard about the gradually improving economy, the job market in Hernando County still stinks.

Hill, 35, has a history of mostly steady work since graduating with an associate's degree from what is now Pasco-Hernando State College.

For nine years, she dispatched trucks at the Walmart Distribution Center in Ridge Manor. After being laid off in 2008, she worked at hospitals from Zephyrhills to St. Petersburg, sterilizing and wrapping surgical equipment.

She left her last job more than 18 months ago because the work had given her bursitis in one shoulder, she said last week as she searched for positions at a computer terminal at the CareerSource Pasco Hernando office on Forest Oaks Boulevard.

And since her unemployment benefits ran out in September, she has been scrambling, sending out more than 100 applications to clean houses, run cash registers, work the floors of clothing stores.

"I'm looking for anything and everything," Hill said.

And so far, she said, she has heard nothing.

Her news is not too different from what can be gleaned from recent unemployment statistics, which show the state shed 2,600 jobs in January and that Hernando's unemployment rate suddenly jumped to 8.4 percent.

Look back a little further and, it's true, the employment picture has brightened. The state added more jobs in 2013 than in any year sine 2009.

And the December unemployment rate in Hernando, 7.6 percent, was half of its peak — 15.1 percent — in January 2010.

There's also a good chance the surprisingly high January number will be revised downward when the February figure is released at the end of this week, said Dave Hamilton, operations manager of the Pasco-Hernando Workforce Board.

Even so, things are tough and, our self-described "jobs governor" aside, nothing to brag about.

That's partly because the lower unemployment rate in Hernando has a lot to do with that now-familiar trend of unemployed people dropping out of the labor force — deciding to retire early, or getting by with cash payments for jobs like cutting hair or fixing cars, or joining the growing ranks of people collecting federal disability checks.

In Hernando, this latter group climbed by 4 percent between 2011 and 2012, and when the count of disabled workers in 2013 is released in a few months, Hamilton said, smart money would be on it to rise again.

And the big picture of worker discouragement in Hernando? Since 2008, the population of Hernando has increased by about 8,000, while its workforce has dropped by about 2,000.

So, yes, jobs here are very difficult to find, even in growing segments of the economy such as health care.

Angela Jones, 50, a licensed practical nurse who specializes in psychiatric care, worked 13 years for a facility in Pasco County.

Just before Christmas, she said, she and several other veteran LPNs were let go, replaced by registered nurses who were paid hardly any more than Jones because they were fresh out of college.

She can't move from her home in Spring Hill, she said, because she's upside-down on her mortgage. And she found out, through her fruitless job search, that her field is saturated with new graduates, probably drawn by its reputation for security.

"I always thought nursing was a sure thing," Jones said.

Pat Parrella-Miljkovic, 61, also worked in health care.

She lost her job admitting emergency room patients at what is now Bayfront Health Brooksville, she said, partly because she wasn't aggressive enough in extracting payments.

That was in January, and last month, for the first time in her life, she went to a local charity for help paying her electric bill.

"I've never been unemployed in my life," she said.

"This is a culture shock for me."

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