Low-Skilled Workers Struggle For Jobs In Las Vegas At 15 percent, the city's unemployment rate is one of the nation's highest. And the job market there has changed. Now employers are looking for computer skills -- something many workers lack. So laid-off residents like Lorraine Valdez are learning to adapt.
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Low-Skilled Workers Struggle For Jobs In Las Vegas

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Low-Skilled Workers Struggle For Jobs In Las Vegas

Low-Skilled Workers Struggle For Jobs In Las Vegas

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The effects of that downturn can be heard in the wrenching personal stories of Las Vegas residents looking for work. From Nevada Public Radio, Adam Burke has this story of one of the city's newest unemployed.

ADAM BURKE: A week ago Saturday, 41-year-old Lorraine Valdez lost her job at a printing company. But that's just the latest in a series of employment woes that have hit very close to home.

Ms. LORRAINE VALDEZ: My sister just got laid off. My daughter, my son, my boyfriend - there's like 10 people, just immediate family, that are looking for work.

BURKE: Valdez is eligible for unemployment, but what she really wants is a job.

By Tuesday, she's with her boyfriend and her daughter, waiting in the lobby of Nevada Job Connect. That's the state-run program that pairs jobseekers with potential employers.

Unidentified Woman: T-256.

Unidentified Man: T-256.

BURKE: Valdez's boyfriend, Michael, fidgets with several rolled-up forms.

MICHAEL: I took auto tech in school and I found out I was better with my hands. So, hopefully I can try and find a job doing oil changes or cars or machinery.

BURKE: Valdez's 24 year-old daughter, Alysha, sips an iced coffee.

Ms. ALYSHA VALDEZ: Preferably looking for a bartending job because of the tips and stuff. But I'll just take whatever.

BURKE: The three live together with Alysha's young daughter in a small apartment. Valdez says they've scraped together enough money for this month's rent and half of next month's.

Ms. VALDEZ: I'm good till the end of December, but after that, we might have to move in with my other daughter.

Ms. KRISTA MARSHALL (Employment Counselor): So, I've heard you haven't been here for quite a while.

Ms. VALDEZ: Yeah, I've been...

BURKE: Lorraine Valdez eventually sits down with an employment counselor named Krista Marshall, who sorts through the pros and cons of Valdez's resume: 10th-grade education, but willing to pursue a GED, limited computer skills, but some valuable work experience.

Ms. MARSHALL: But in marketing and merchandising, that might be an easier fit for you as well. Plus, again, you have...

BURKE: Valdez has a clear, unvarnished view of her own history, and where it's taken her.

Ms. VALDEZ: I had babies really early in life. I had my first baby at 16. I started working immediately. I've been working since I was 14 and a half.

BURNETT: Still, the work has changed for Valdez over the years.

Ms. VALDEZ: These days, it's not really labor and hands-on kind of stuff. It's more technical and using your brain. And I don't have a lot of education in that, so I need to go get that.

Mr. JOHN RESTREPO: The city is seeing the end result of public and private policies that did not focus on developing the workforce, developing our human capital.

BURKE: John Restrepo runs an economic and public policy research firm in Las Vegas.

During the growth boom of the last few decades, low-skilled workers flocked to the city by the hundreds of thousands for jobs in construction, the service sector and retail. It was an extremely rapid but quite shallow kind of economic growth - one that's evaporated quickly in the recession.

And now, Restrepo says, workers like Lorraine Valdez face a few very limited options.

Mr. RESTREPO: They have to either retrain themselves or leave town. 'Cause if they're sitting around waiting for those large numbers of low-skill wage jobs to come back to the resort industry or the construction industry - which is the major employers of low-skill workers - that's not going to happen.

BURKE: But those are the words of an economist. In the face of gloomy statistics, Lorraine Valdez believes she has to press on.

Ms. VALDEZ: I can't just lay down. I got to keep going. I got to something - if I do the right thing, something will happen. Some door, some way, somehow will open up and give me a chance.

BURKE: And in the short run, doors seem to be opening for Valdez. A few days later, she has an interview with a cab company and a lead on a seasonal gig in a toy store - something that might keep her going at least through the Christmas season.

For NPR News, I'm Adam Burke in Las Vegas.

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