Published On: Fri, Apr 13th, 2012

Job Fair or Cattle Call?

By: Dale King

My wife and I recently attended a conference at a West Palm Beach hotel. We were having breakfast when we noticed a large number of people gathering in the walkways around the dining area.  I’m talking about massive crowds, and everyone was well-dressed. I thought maybe it was a group for another seminar or conference.

So I asked a few people what was going on.  It seems the hotel was hosting a job fair that day.  Hence the reason for men to wear suits and women to don their best outfits.

There were all types of people there, young and old, white and black, some carrying expensive briefcases and talking on Smartphones; others carrying papers in manila folders..

The group had one thing in common.  Not one of them had a job.  And there were hundreds of people in a crowd that circled the main floor of the hotel and spread through the front door out to the parking lot.  I’d estimate 600 people, maybe up to thousand, had come looking for work.

I was a little stunned.  I was under the impression that the jobless rate was getting smaller – that jobs were becoming more abundant.  Apparently not in Palm Beach County; apparently not among the hundreds of people who made their way to the hotel on a scorching hot Florida day.

Everyone seemed to have a story. One woman said she’d been unemployed since 2008.  Her unemployment benefits had run out.  She has no car, so she took a bus from Boynton Beach to Federal Highway and then walked a couple of miles to the hotel.  This woman was desperate for herself and for her daughter.

Desperation seemed to echo among many in the crowd.  What was particularly strange was how shabbily the crowd was treated by those who arranged this fair.  People were herded like cattle.  I even heard some of them crying out, “Moo, moo,” mocking the fair staff.

I looked out the glass door at the crowd of people standing in the hot, midmorning sun, sweating, fanning themselves and wondering what was going on.  Few of their questions got answered.  And in the meantime, sweat was soaking through their nice suits and fancy dresses.

Clearly, the people running this event didn’t know what they were doing – which just added insult to injury.  Imagine hundreds of people who had been looking for jobs unsuccessfully for two years or more being treated to one more indignity.  It supported a theory I have held for some time that the general population has a dim view of the unemployed.  Jobless people are considered to be lazy, good-for-nothings with few skills and little education.  I remember once hearing Rush Limbaugh – who lives in an expensive home in Palm Beach – call unemployed people “lazy.”

If you can imagine, the worst was yet to come. After this group waited hours to get into the job fair – after they were ignored in the hot sun as if they were third-class citizens – they went through the doors of the job fair to find no more than a dozen – perhaps fewer – potential employers.  At least one company wasn’t even accepting resumes; they just referred the crowd to its website.  Some colleges were on hand, just looking to sign people up for courses, but offering no jobs.  A radio station from Belle Glade was also there.

I have a new take on unemployment because of this experience.  If you hear government figures saying things are going great in the job market, forget it.  You’re being lied to. The unemployment rate is still high and jobs are still in short supply.  The unemployed are suffering – most of those I talked to had lost their benefits.

These people aren’t lazy. They went out of their way to answer a call and they got a pittance for their efforts.  Shame on the people who promised a job fair and offered only cattle call.

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