Job market fears and hope in Bridgeport

By ROB VARNON
Staff writer, CT Post

Article Last Updated: 11/05/2008 08:24:27 PM EST

BRIDGEPORT -- A bad job market about to turn worse hangs over the heads of newly betrothed Dayvon Karney and Evette Wilson, both 20, who sat on the worn, concrete steps leading into the Bridgeport train station Wednesday afternoon hanging on to their hopes.

The Bridgeport couple got engaged two weeks ago but said the day of the wedding hasn't been set and they're not sure when they will walk down the aisle because it's expensive to get married.

"It's hard to find a job around here," Wilson said. She's a student at the University of Phoenix in Norwalk where she studies business administration. She said the jobs today don't pay enough and because there is more competition from more experienced candidates who just lost jobs, even the entry level positions are hard to get.

Husband-to-be Karney said his friends go to the mall to find jobs, but hiring is slow there. He said the jobs you can get pay minimum wage and that just won't cover it for people who are desperate for money.

"Minimum wage makes people turn to the streets," Karney said.

The two said they remain hopeful things will turn around in the country under a new president, but expect it to take a while.

Paul Lerman, dean of the University of Bridgeport Business School, said the Bridgeport couple and the new president are caught in a difficult situation.

A slowdown in the economy is hurting businesses, which have to find ways to trim costs and labor is one way to do that.

Lerman said the move to cut jobs, however, can exacerbate problems in the economy by forcing more people to reduce spending and placing more burdens on government programs. He said, however, company executives generally don't think about the big picture and instead have to concentrate on delivering results for their stockholders.

"That's not going to change," he said.

In Connecticut, 3,106 layoffs have been reported to the state Department of Labor for the first 10 months, according to the notices posted on the agency's Web site. That's about an average of 310 a month, which is actually less than the average for the same period in 2007, when 3,174 jobs were cut.

Payroll services company ADP released a report on Wednesday that said 157,000 jobs were cut in October in America. The U.S. Department of Labor reports its own figures on Friday.

During the Great Depression, the nation got caught in a deflationary spiral in which demand and prices for products kept declining and companies kept cutting jobs, which in turn reduced demand even further and eroded prices even more to the point where 25 percent of Americans were jobless.

Lerman said the economy today is not heading for that spiral because there are so many different pressures, including inflationary ones. Specifically, Lerman pointed to the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street and the reduction in federal interest rates, which makes it cheaper to borrow money. That move and others are reducing the dollar's value against other currencies, which can push prices up.

"I think we've never seen anything like this," he said.

But what's happening in the jobs market will remain tough and most people walking in downtown Bridgeport expect that.

Ellen Thees, 54 of Bridgeport, said she works in insurance, an industry that's seeing job cuts.

"It's going to take a long time to come back," she said of the job market. That's because it took a long time to create the economic mess the world is in, she said. She also expects more cuts to come, especially in customer service. But she feels companies should sometimes look at the long-term before making those moves.

"They're cutting customer service and expecting customers to stay," she said. But she also expressed hope for the future, adding she hopes under President Obama, the nation will develop a tax strategy to encourage companies to create jobs and keep them in the country. She said a lot of jobs have been shipped overseas.

There's also some fear out there.

Two women who said companies need to cut jobs to stay in business wouldn't give their names. They said their employer is already downsizing.

Chris Lurenco said there's not much people can do about it but to keep working and "hope for the best."

"I graduate in May. There better be jobs," said Liz Bragg, of Bridgeport.

Bragg was on her way to Housatonic Community College where she takes classes in human services. She said she remains hopeful that things will turn around, but said she's noticed a growing number of people who are jobless. But, like many people, she said she's counting on the new president to make a difference.

"I hope the economy makes a U-turn under Obama," she said.