St. Charles Herald-Guide

Real reason 800 people are out of work in St. Charles Parish

Staff Report - November 29, 2006

LULING - Getting a job in St. Charles Parish isnít as easy as you might think.

And thatís especially for the estimated 800 men and women who arenít working in a boom economy where positions are going unfilled just about everywhere you look.

Itís true that "Help Wanted" and "Weíve Got Jobs" signs plastered all over the place.

But before you can take even the simplest of these positions, you have to be:

1. Willing to work.

2. Physically able to work.

3. Off drugs.

4. In a family situation that allows you to accept a job that might not provide you with as much money as you can get on the public dole in the short run, but in the long run could lead to self-sufficiency and a better life.

Those four "conditions" alone knock about half the unemployed men and women in St. Charles Parish out of the running for a job, say officials.

But the qualifications and ďstipulationsĒ donít end there.

You also need reliable transporation to and from the office or job site.

And you have to come to grips with the fact that to be a productive member of the community, youíll have to make daily decisions that will seem like "no brainers" to most folks - but can be deal-breakers for people who arenít "job savvy."

Those decisions include:

- Wearing job-appropriate clothes to work.

- Getting to work on time.

- Exercising restraint in interactions with bosses, supervisors and co-workers who rely on teamwork and compromise - not argumentativeness and confrontation - to get the job done.

"Sometimes these Ďsoft skillsí - such as knowing how to dress for work and how to relate to supervisors - are major obstacles for people who want to work but arenít equipped to get and keep a job," James Poole, program coordinator of the St. Charles One-Stop Career Center in Luling, told the Herald-Guide.

"You might wonder how it is that adult men and women donít understand these things. And the answer is, it all begins in the home."

Soft-spoken, articulate and quick with a smile, Poole, 52, a native of Roxboro, North Carolina, is on the front lines of employment - and unemployment - in St. Charles Parish.

And he knows better than anyone why 4.6 percent of the work force isnít collecting a weekly paycheck and other benefits - such as health insurance - that full-time employment can provide.

"The first thing you have to remember in discussing unemployment is that numbers can lie," he cautions. "The percentages suggest that 800 people are out of work here, but the actual number is unknown.

"The figures are based on people who file for employment security checks, and they donít take into account people who have given up looking for work, and those who are working under the table for untaxed wages in the underground economy.

"Some of these people you see on the streets who appear to be jobless actually are working two or three days a week in constuction and earning more than they would working five days a week somewhere else.

"We donít encourage that because itís not just illegal, itís short sighted. These jobs involve repair work and rebuilding based on hurricane damage. Eventually theyíll dry up."

But even if the figures are a little fuzzy, they are, Poole acknowledges, all weíve got.

And using the figure of "800 unemployed parishioners" thatís based on the latest-available unemployment rate, Poole ďguess-ti-matesĒ that half of them - about 400 - are physically able to accept a job with a legitimate employer right now.

The other half need assistance that might include coaching, training, psychological counseling and perhaps other forms of support - such as help in overcoming a drug or drinking problem - before they could seriously expect someone to hire them.

So why arenít the 400 who could hold a job not snapping up positions that all the fast-food franchises, mom-and-pop shops and other businesses - both small and large - are begging them to take?

"Some people simply donít want to work," says Poole. "They arenít going to take a job under any circumstances.

"For those who do want to work, there can be obstacles keeping them from doing it. Public transportation is lacking in St. Charles Parish.

"We have clients who are limited to finding a job within walking distance of their homes, and that's not always an easy thing to do. With no buses here, and no taxis ... that makes it hard."