Keeping the holiday spirit alive
With less than a week left before Christmas, Lee County’s unemployment picture is still not a pretty one.
According to state statistics released Friday, unemployment numbers for the county are hovering just below 14 percent.
Thirty-eight thousand people are still searching for work in Lee County during a time when others are searching for the perfect gift.
Barbara Hartman from the Career and Service Center in Fort Myers said the holiday season tends to compound the frustration job hunters are experiencing.
“Any time we’re around the holidays it simply magnifies the loss of employment,” she said. “The impact is very deep … it’s difficult, emotionally, for our job seekers.”
For Cape Coral resident Carmen Ashby, this holiday season has been difficult.
She has far more on her mind than mere Christmas shopping, though she is an admitted Christmas lover, taught to embrace and celebrate the holiday by her mother.
Yet, Ashby has not been at the mall looking for gifts, she hasn’t been preparing an elaborate Christmas feast; instead, she spends most of her days at the Career and Service Center’s Cape office, shooting off resumes, scouring the internet, trying desperately to find a job.
Ashby has been out of work for more than a year and a half.
“I didn’t think that, at this age, I would go through this hell,” Ashby said. “I never thought I’d be pushed to this point in my life.”
Turning 57 next Wednesday, Ashby is contemplating going back to school to learn a new skill, but isn’t entirely certain it will help her in the long run.
Having gone to more than 50 interviews in the last year and a half, she’s seen her fair share of disappointment and rejection, and is brought to tears three different times while discussing her jobless turmoil.
She had a few bright spots — two separate temporary jobs earlier in the year provided a few paychecks — but the overwhelming feelings in her life and depression and stress.
“I can’t see the other side of the tunnel just yet,” she said.
There were actually 2,400 new jobs created between October and November, but it did nothing to impact the unemployment percentages.
According to the statewide statistics, retail jobs increased by 900 positions, trade transportation went up by 900, and the leisure and hospitality industry grew by 600 jobs.
Barbara Hartman said the increases in the trade and transportation and retail industries are due, in part, to the holiday season, and the leisure and hospitality industry saw a spike because snowbirds are making a comeback.
While the job growth is positive, Hartman said, it’s going to take something significant to make a large dent in the unemployment numbers.
“The number of people that are unemployed are so great, the sporadic hiring doesn’t really have an effect on the data,” she said.
One of the more difficult things for job seekers Hartman said is staying positive during these negative times.
She said they do their best at the Career and Service Center to make sure people are staying upbeat, providing structure for people on daily basis, helping them to keep up their morale.
That’s definitely true in Carmen Ashby’s case, who has come to view the Career and Service Center in Cape Coral as a second home, and the people who work there as her family.
She said that people like Homer Sosa, the Cape office manager, tells her on a regular basis not to give up, to keep plugging until she’s able to breakthrough.
“For me, at this point, this place is family,” Ashby said. “I’m here practically every day.”
Christmas plans for Ashby are as follows: She and her husband James are going to New Jersey to visit their children, who are paying for them to fly north for a week.
James recently returned to Cape Coral from New Jersey, where he slept on his son’s couch while searching for work.
The reunion will be bittersweet for them, because they know their problems are waiting for them when they return.
She will be happy to see her children, of course, but there is only one thing that she truly wants for Christmas.
“Only a full-time, permanent job will help me,” she said.