By DAVID TINDELL
As unemployment peaked this summer in Fredericksburg, UMW students found it difficult to find work.
The Fredericksburg area recorded some of the worst unemployment numbers for cities in the state in recent years. According to the Department of Labor, Fredericksburg’s unemployment reached 9.8 percent in June of 2009, up from 5.9 percent in 2008. The State of Virginia’s unemployment as a whole is lower overall, at 6.9 percent.
The unemployment rate also considers those without work who are actively looking for employment. These 289,700 unemployed Virginia workers, 117,500 more than the same month last year according to the Virginia Employment Commission, compete with students for work, meaning UMW college students with limited time and experience fend for jobs against one of the most competitive markets in the state.
Fredericksburg’s overall workforce is 13,000, meaning about 1,300 workers were unemployed as of July.
With such an abundant workforce, Fredericksburg does not have enough job expansion to match. Manager Chris DePumpo of the new Wegmans supermarket in Central Park said they received about 7,000 applications since January and provided around 400 jobs since its June opening. In less than two months, Wegmans was no longer hiring, yet they still received 100 applications a month.
Similarly, Manager Ashley Poe of Eileen’s Café, who employs at least five college students, said they received about two applications on an average day, many of which are students. Representatives of 12 other local businesses, including Olive Garden, Best Buy, and American Eagle, all said they are taking applications but none are hiring.
Jobs on the UMW campus have followed suit.
“Particularly this summer, when usually we get a number of part time applications [from businesses]…we got next to none,” Gary Johnson, career services director, said.
“I have a lot of applications…the minimum wage has risen three times, but our budget has not increased,” Campus Employment Supervisor Angie Pitzer said.
She stresses for students to network with anyone, let everyone know they need work, and keep on searching in the hope something will become available.
Senior Courtney Chaplin, an employee at Logan’s Roadhouse in Central Park, said that the economy has affected her job.
“I definitely noticed a slow down…people are tightening up a bit,” Chaplin said.
She said there had been several times where she would be cut from the floor only after two hours of work because of lack of business.
However, jobs are still available to students willing to search. Gary Johnson cites SnagAJob.com as a good resource for local part-time work; additionally, the internship database at the Career Services provides a healthy number of opportunities (unpaid labor is needed). Sodexo Manager John Deering said, “We are always trying to get students. [We] love working with [and] for students.”
There are also numerous positions and five scholarship opportunities for employees of Sodexo.
Students that have graduated are having an even more difficult time. In the state of Virginia, the Project on Student Debt reports that 59 percent of students leave with debt at an average of $18,084. On the national scale, student debt averages are reported to have risen 20 percent from 2004 to 2008 and the number of private loan borrowers rose from 935,000 in 2003-04 to almost 3 million in 2007-08.
“Fall looks better than summer…but students have to be extra aggressive…go to restaurant to restaurant, store to store. They are not going to be aggressive for you,” Johnson said.