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NUMBERS ALL HAVE FACES

One is a new dad who gave up a good sales job to move closer to family. Another is a single mom of teens who lost her telecommunications job after eight years. Still another is a concrete worker who built mansions but now would be happy just to flip burgers.

These are some of the faces behind Pasco County's 12.2 percent unemployment rate.

"The numbers are increasing, and a lot of people are frustrated," said Ken Russ, the interim president of the non-profit agency that oversees Career Central, the job placement centers for Pasco and Hernando counties "We see it because we're the only ones where they can actually see a face and talk to a person."

And while the job centers can provide leads, they can't make more jobs appear out of thin air.

"It's tough out there right now," Russ said.

Meet some of the people who know this all too well.

Allen Moody

The 29-year-old recently moved to Hudson from Texas with his wife and newborn son to be closer to his in-laws. He gave up "a pretty good" job selling $3,000 mosquito control systems to upscale clients to work for a smaller company that sold the same thing in Oldsmar. But as the economy soured, the company went out of business. Moody went to work selling storm windows for the Clearwater company where his wife, Shannon, works. But the couple had only one car, and with child care, it became impossible for them both to work.

After weighing the options, it was more beneficial for Shannon, who is paid hourly, to stay, while Allen, who received commission and worked by appointment, found he needed to work closer to home.

This week, he learned just how difficult that is.

"There are no jobs in Pasco County," he said as he used the computers Tuesday at Career Central's resource room to look for leads. In his lap, he held his 5-month-old son, Vincent.

The family has no Internet connection. That's why he comes to Career Central.

He scanned job lists and saw one for a lawn care service. The pay: $8 an hour.

If nothing changes, he fears having to move in with his mother-in-law, who is already housing other family members.

"She's got 10 people in a four-bedroom home," he said.

Jean Wuest-Ponterio

The 49-year-old single mom of two teens once made $40,000 a year working for a Palm Harbor telecommunications company.

"I always had a new car," she said. "We always took a vacation."

When she was laid off, she got another job with a GPS monitoring company. But it laid her off after a month.

Her unemployment is running out and she applied for an extension, but problems in the computer meant no check came for weeks. One day she spent hours hitting speed dial in hopes of getting through to a help line.

"It's a disaster," she said.

At one point, she was down to $8.

"I've applied to Monster.com, Jobs.com, Hire.com, Utility.com," she said. "I've applied to every dot com there is. A headhunter told me there's 1,200 applications for every job."

She decided to enroll in school to become a patient care technician and is doubling up on classes so she can get out faster. But she learned that public money to pay for training doesn't include textbooks.

And the unemployment account is frozen, because the last customer service rep she talked to noted that she was already in school (she wasn't) and the enrollment paperwork hadn't shown up.

So Wuest-Ponterio, who needs to buy books and has a $231 utility bill, showed up at Career Central to talk to a real person.

"You don't understand what they're trying to do to me," she said, choking up at one point.

Customer service staffer Darlene Ream listened patiently and sent an e-mail to Tallahassee asking that the hold be removed.

Ream understands. Her son and son-in-law, both in banking, also were laid off.

"This has hit everyone," she said.

Bruce Bailey

The 27-year-old New Port Richey man spent three years as a block layer and finisher for a concrete and masonry company that did work for commercial projects and high-end homes in Baillie's Bluff. He was laid off, then got called back and laid off again after a month.

"I went from $20 a hour to zero," said Bailey, a father of a 5-year-old son and 15-month-old daughter.

He drove a 2007 Ford Focus but had to give it back.

"It's been hard," he said.

Bailey, a former fast food cook who described himself as "a shining star at Hardee's," went back there in hopes of landing a job. No luck.

He also applied at a grocery store and a dock building company.

He and his girlfriend have no cable, no Internet. They recently moved to a cheaper apartment.

Having a family to support causes the most worry.

"It's scary," he said. "But I'm trying to make the best of it."

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

Since unemployment hit 12.2 percent in Pasco and 13.2 percent in Hernando, visits to Career Central, the one-stop job center for the two counties, have skyrocketed. Here's a comparison of visits to the New Port Richey office in August of the past three years.

3,947 August 2007

4,999 August 2008

6,709 August 2009

Source: Career Central

Career Central

For job training, developmentand placement services, visit Career Central's Web site at www.careercentral.jobs or one of its three locations in Pasco and Hernando counties.

-4440 Grand Blvd, New Port Richey, (727) 484-3400

-7361 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill, (352) 200-3020

-6038 Gall Blvd, Zephyrhills, (813) 377-1300

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