Money and Main Street

Word on the street: No job prospects

The economic picture has started to improve, but those out of work see no recovery in sight.

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By Jessica Dickler, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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Shalon Brown says her biggest fear is her unemployment benefits running out, which will happen in November.
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Rebecca Natale is still unable to find another job in her industry, despite over 12 years of experience.
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The job market is showing signs of improvement, according to the latest economic reports. But for those out of work and pounding the pavement, there are few signs of a turnaround.

After peaking in January, the pace of job losses has slowed dramatically, according to the Labor Department. Employers cut 216,000 jobs from their payrolls in August -- 22% fewer than the previous month.

But even though job cuts have abated, hiring is close to a standstill, as most employers are still hesitant to add workers. The number of new hires remains near an all-time low, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And job hunters aren't seeing much improvement either.

"I've applied to over 80 positions and only gotten one callback from a company that 'wasn't hiring but was interested in me for future openings,'" said Shalon Brown, 27, who was laid off in December and has struggled to find something else in her field of landscape architecture.

"I'd be willing to take any job that pays at least $30,000 and offers health insurance right now."

But that might be harder than it sounds. One problem is that companies are trending away from filling full-time positions with benefits. For those businesses in need of extra help, employers are much more likely to bring on temporary workers to meet demand, explained Janette Marx, senior vice president of Ajilon Professional Staffing. "They are not quite sure of hiring full time yet," Marx said.

In fact, almost 70% of U.S. companies surveyed expect no change in their fourth-quarter hiring plans, according to a recent study by employment services company Manpower Inc.

Jo Prabhu, who runs placement firm 1-800-Jobquest in Long Beach, Calif., has no intention of bringing on any full-time workers in the year ahead. "We will be taking advantage of the new and acceptable methods of hiring, and will only be hiring independent consultants or contractors for 2010 on an as-needed basis."

Prabhu also says the other companies she works with share her sentiment. "The old standards of hiring and retention have given way to the new concept of jobbing and outsourcing, and employers are seeking a greater percentage of 'at will' services without having to finance and support medical, retirement and other benefits."

And that leaves many unemployed workers out of luck and still out of a job.

Rebecca Natale, 42, is hopeful there will be more employment opportunities going forward, but is realistic that her situation might not improve until next year. Natale left her position as a human resources manager in May planning to start her own business or find another position in her industry. In the last four months, she says she has only received calls for commission-based sales jobs.

"I applied for summer help to stay busy and nothing," she said. "I figure it will be the same response if I apply for upcoming seasonal positions."

Natale views her job prospects as being
"pretty nonexistent in my field until the middle to the end of next year."

Some experts agree with that outlook. Many recruiters expect hiring to pick up again in 2010, albeit at a very slow pace. "I do believe we will start to create jobs again," although likely "after the first of the year," said Bob Damon, the president of North America for recruiting firm Korn/Ferry.

But Shalon Brown is less optimistic. Even with lowered expectations, "I've got no job prospects," she said. "I'm expecting a long, cold winter ahead."

Talkback: When do you see the job market improving? Share your comments below. To top of page

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