MAHONING VALLEY Tight job market puts squeeze on grads

Many recent college graduates looking to start their careers in the area are still working the same part-time jobs they had during school.
YOUNGSTOWN -- It's now almost three months since Jennifer Boulton and her fianc & eacute; walked across the graduation stage at Youngstown State University, grabbing their diplomas and turning their tassels.
It was supposed to finish the end of a long chapter in their lives, but at the same time write the first passage of a prosperous new one.
But not all that much has changed for the two since that day.
Boulton, of Austintown, graduated with a degree in human resources management. She is still at the Taco Bell restaurant where she worked to help put herself through school, though she has been promoted to assistant manager.
Her fianc & eacute; still has the same job he worked through school also, but now logs 70-80 hours a week to pay the bills.
They are just two of the many students from local colleges who desperately want to stay and work in the Mahoning Valley after graduation but end up unemployed or settle for low-paying jobs after wrestling unsuccessfully for months with the region's depressed economy.
Boulton's options are cramped in this market because there are no big businesses in the area ready to scoop up new graduates right out of college and offer them entry-level positions. Her fianc & eacute; said he had a good line on a job in Dayton.
But the two are committed to staying here, and are looking to buy a house in Lordstown or Austintown.
"My family's here, and I'm a big family person," Boulton said. "It's home for me."
A hard fact
Across virtually all professional industries, many in the Valley trying to stay close to home after school are finding out the opportunities they want aren't here.
By Ohio Bureau of Employment Services projections, employment will grow 12.5 percent statewide from 1998-2008. The Youngstown-Warren region is slated for 8.2 percent growth, placing it second-to-last in the state's eight regions.
Much of that growth is in high-skilled and education-intensive sectors. Computer engineers, systems analysts and computer support specialists are growing faster than any other jobs in the area.
But part of the reason they're growing so fast is that there were so few of those jobs to begin with. Though the computer engineering industry is expected to grow 119 percent from 1998-2008, that translates into 39 job openings each year, according to OBES figures.
By contrast, there are more than 10 times that many annual openings in retail sales.
The five types of jobs in the Valley with the most annual openings are retail sales, fast food, cashiering, waiter/waitressing and general office clerking. Three of those five, on average, pay less than $6.50 per hour, according to the OBES.
Down the road
"We will eventually have jobs for most of [the graduates], but we don't have them now," said Don Curry, labor market analyst in the Youngstown-Warren area for the OBES.
"It's not like we can put them in the freezer, and then dust them off when the economy is better and there is more demand."
Stephanie Moore of Cortland graduated from Youngstown State University in May with a psychology degree. She said there are twice as many openings in her field in Cleveland and Akron than here, but she wants to stay in the area because she has a young child and her husband is still finishing college.
She's had a few interviews, but for the most part, no one is hiring. Soon, she said, she's going to have to settle for whatever she can get just to pay the bills.
"If I haven't found anything by Aug. 15, I'm going to be a secretary," Moore said. "I have to have income by the first of September."
Besides general expenses, Moore also has $14,000 in student loans to pay off.
Clara Braun, a YSU elementary education graduate, has looked all over the region for teaching jobs.
"In Warren, they basically said 'Fat chance,'" Braun said. "They had to lay a few people off."
Braun, of Howland, said the 10 classmates in elementary education she's talked to since graduation haven't had better luck.
She has a part-time job and plans to work this year as a substitute teacher in hopes that something will open next year.
Until then, she and other recent graduates looking for work in the Valley will continue their post-graduation homework: circling classified ads and scouring job lists.

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