To see more pictures from the job fair, click here.

Friday October 7, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- At 6.2 percent, unemployment in the Berkshires is at its lowest point of the year, while the Pittsfield labor market points to a high rate of job growth.

But numbers don't always tell the story. People do. Judging by some of their situations, it's still hard out there.

Deborah Polito of Pittsfield has been out of work for more than a year, and just had her unemployment benefits extended again. She believes the latest extension -- Polito think it's her third -- will last until the end of 2011. But she isn't sure.

"It's like hanging on a wire," Polito said.

Polito is one of nearly 4.5 million Americans -- nearly one-third of the unemployed -- who have had no job for a year or more. That's a record high in the U.S.

On Thursday, Polito was one of around 500 job seekers who descended on the Crowne Plaza Hotel for a Job Fair sponsored by the BerkshireWorks Career Center. This year's event, billed as the county's largest job fair by BerkshireWorks, attracted 64 businesses, three educational providers, and six community resource groups.

"I think businesses are hiring and this is an opportunity," said Barbara Emanuel, a marketing and business services representative for BerkshireWorks, referring to the number of participants. She said several job seekers at Thursday's event were in the same situation as Polito.

"It's coming down to the wire for some people," Emanuel said.

Although some job seekers were looking for work in a specific field, others, like Polito, were not fussy when they browsed the employer's tables.

"I'm looking for any kind of office position," said Polito, who gave her age as "over 50." She last worked as a receptionist for a Pittsfield law firm, but has been in and out of work since she was first laid off in 2005.

"Since then I've gone from one administrative position to another," she said. "But because I'm the low man on the totem pole when there's a layoff, I get it. It's stressful."

Mark, a 47-year-old Pittsfield resident who declined to give his last name, has been out of full-time work since February, and just received a 20-week extension on his unemployment benefits. He's found a part-time sales job, but was looking for something extra to supplement his income. Like Polito, he's been laid off more than once.

"There are jobs out there," Mark said. "But they require relocation. I've got three kids in Pittsfield."

A former Peace Corps volunteer, Mark said he was looking for "something full-time with benefits." But on Thursday morning, he sat at a table filling out a form for RSVP, Pittsfield's retired senior volunteer program.

"It's all volunteer," he said. "But it gets you into the market and out of the house, and brings you to reality again."

Debra Bailey, a representative of Coach Factory Outlet, which has a store at the Lee Premium Outlets mall, ran out of job applications during the first hour of Thursday's event, even though the company was only offering part-time work.

"A lot of people are looking for jobs," Bailey said.

It helps to be flexible when looking for work, said Jessica Christman of Pittsfield. Christman, 29, who is certified as a teacher, lost her job last year when her employer in Pittsfield downsized. She took a job with Home Depot, and was promoted to human resources. On Thursday, Christman was one of two employees who represented Home Depot at the Job Fair.

Her message to job seekers? Don't get discouraged.

"Just keep pushing away," Christman said. "It doesn't hurt."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6224.