With hundreds of job applications sent out, and only two to three interviews produced from those applications, Kyle Toole said he's hit a dead end.
Quarterly Census of Average Employment for Aiken County
Education, Health Services
Hospitality, Food Services
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting
Transportation and Warehousing
Administrative and Waste Services
Arts, Entertainment and Recreation
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce
Seeing that dead end and having little to no formal work experience, Toole, 21, sought out help from the Goodwill Job Connection, located off Pine Log Road.
“It's really been so helpful,” Toole said. “When I came here, I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to dress or do anything to really get a job ... It was a struggle when I first came here.”
Toole's case isn't unlike many of the other situations Jennifer Hart sees on a daily basis. Hart is the community director for the Goodwill Industries of Middle Georgia and CSRA.
Throughout the day, the Goodwill Job Connection will be filled with various ages, demographics and capable individuals, she said.
“You see people from all walks of life,” Hart said. “In here, you can have engineers from the (Savannah River) Site, veterans, nurses and teachers. We see a number of professions, but we also see a mix of people who have no path, no education and very little hope.”
When the Job Connection opened about three years ago, the center served more than 2,000 people from July 2011 to June 2012.
In the most recent fiscal year (2013-2014), that number increased by 600. However, during that same period, the number of individuals who became employed through Goodwill's assistance rose from 282 in 2011-2012, to more than 500 in 2013-2014, earning an average wage of more than $10.50 per hour.
Hart worked in human resources before joining Goodwill. She said before the recession, finding a qualified individual to fill another job opening was difficult.
“You're trying to get this qualified person out of a job they probably already do well in, so you really had to be competitive to take them away from their already fantastic career,” Hart said. “But then, you really saw a swing once the recession hit, and after, where if I had an opening for an entry-level position ... I could easily get 200 to 300 applications over a weekend ... You saw so many that had previously held higher-paying jobs and now are willing to accept lower because they needed to work.”
In the pre-recession's peak in 2004, the number of those in the civilian non-institutional population age 16 or higher, which were employed or actively seeking employment, sat at about 73,300 in Aiken County and 12,500 in the City of Aiken, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
By 2007, when the recession hit, those employed or actively seeking employment grew to almost 75,000 in Aiken County and almost 14,000 in the City of Aiken.
As the recession began to wane in 2009, Aiken County's labor force continued to grow to almost 76,000, and the City of Aiken's labor force grew to roughly 14,000.
Just last year, the number dipped from 2012 to 2013 in Aiken County from about 78,000 to 76,000. The number grew in the City of Aiken from approximately 13,754 to approximately 13,771.
Dips in those numbers can mean various things, USC Aiken professors Dr. Clifton Jones and Dr. Sanela Porca wrote in the recently-released Regional Economic Benchmarking Report For Aiken County.
Those dips can mean individuals are attending school, some have retired, others are unemployed by choice, or some individuals have become so discouraged from employment opportunities in their area and have decided to not look for work, according to the study.
“When I listened to the economic analysis of our area ... one of the things he (Jones) spoke about that resonated with me was the true unemployment rate,” Hart said. “There is a population that has lost hope and just stopped looking.”
As of last year, Aiken County had almost 72,000 residents employed, with only about 5,800 unemployed. The City of Aiken had almost 13,000 residents with employment and almost 1,000 unemployed.
“Of greater concern may be the fact that Aiken County employment fell from 2012 to 2013 by almost 300 jobs, while employment continued to rise in South Carolina and the nation,” Porca and Jones wrote. “In the City of Aiken, employment has been falling each year since 2011. There are almost 200 fewer jobs in Aiken County in 2013 than in 2011, and half of those came out of the City of Aiken. The City of Aiken has now lost 427 jobs since 2007, and doesn't look like it will replace those jobs anytime soon.”
While statistics show a less-than-favorable workforce outcome within Aiken, Toole said he's optimistic.
“I want to go into veterinary medicine down the road, but right now, I am interested in finding a cashier, cook or busboy job. I'll take whatever is available,” Toole said. “But I know if I hadn't attended any classes, I'd still be sitting at that dead end.”
Maayan Schechter is the local government reporter with Aiken Standard. Follow her on Twitter @MaayanSchechter.