Slower-than-expected jobs growth and a stagnant unemployment rate mean continued demand on local agencies that struggling residents.
Unemployment and underemployment continue to plague Romeoville and Bolingbrook, according to Shirley Grzenia, supervisor of the DuPage Township Food Pantry.
On Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report showing that the U.S. added 54,000 new jobs in May — far fewer than expected by economists. The national employment rate remained largely unchanged, rising one-tenth of a point to 9.1. percent.
The numbers didn’t surprise Grzenia, who estimated the pantry serves 1,000 families each month. Many are new clients.
“It’s new people,” she said, and it’s not just unemployed residents who are struggling.
“It’s the underemployed, also,” Grzenia said. “They lost their jobs, they got part-time jobs and they’re still not making ends meet.”
In 2006, before the recession hit, Grzenia said the pantry served slightly more than 5,000 families.
"In 2008 we jumped up to 8,520," she said, adding that in 2009 the pantry served a record 14,624 families, and the number was about the same in 2010.
The start of summer — and summer break for kids — will only make matters worse for many families, she added.
“Here’s the problem,” Grzenia said. “[Students] get breakfast at school. They get lunch at school. They get a snack at school.”
But for parents who rely on the state’s free and reduced-price meal program, summer can be a struggle.
Continued demand for services has also taken its toll on the supply of food and other items at the pantry, which holds distribution days from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday.
“We’re always looking for donations,” Grzenia said. “That’s always challenging ... Most of the people that used to donate and give are now families that need [help]."
Currently, donations of all types of food, from canned goods to fresh fruits and vegetables, are in demand, along with toiletries like shampoo and soap, Grzenia said. To donate or volunteer at the food pantry, call 815-886-7986.
DuPage Township residents in need of assistance can simply show up at the pantry, 719 Parkwood Drive in Romeoville, on a distribution date, Grzenia said. Clients must provide two forms of identification.
Robert Kalnicky, executive director of the Community Service Council of Northern Will County, said his organization is seeing slightly increased numbers of residents in need of assistance, from financial counseling to foreclosure prevention.
"We're not seeing the [numbers] we saw a year ago, but month over month, we're seeing a slight increase," Kalnicky said, estimating the organization works with 125 to 130 clients per month.
Most of the people who seek help at the CSC have a simple goal: to stay in their homes.
The CSC has also recently partnered with Will County to offer help for first-time buyers through the Illinois Neighborhood Stabilization Program.
"We try to educate people so they don't get into trouble in the first place," Kalnicky said.
Starting Monday, the CSC will offer a free summer class to help clients learn the basics of buying a home, managing credit, budgeting, managing finances and the foreclosure process. To register for the class, call 815-866-5000 or visit the CSC's calendar of events and click on any class.
Not all bad news
Locally, the employment picture isn’t entirely bleak.
"You watch the news or you hear about it around the dinner table, people talking about the economy, and sometimes it makes students think there are no opportunities," said Career Services Director Smret Smith. "But there are jobs out there.
"A lot of great companies are hiring, especially entry-level graduates."
This year's Lewis University career fair drew 80 employers seeking candidates for all levels of employment, Smith added.
Whether or not you're a Lewis alum, Smith had some advice for all job seekers.
"I always tell people they have to be strategic," she said. "Applicants shouldn't cast a wide net in their job search, hoping to snag any job they can get. A lot of times, that sabotages the entire job-search process. It can also prove exhausting .
"Getting a job is hard to do but you don't want to get a job and not like it, so that in six months, you're not looking for a job again."
Resumes and job searches should be tailored to one or two specific types of job, Smith said, and job seekers should evaluate their social networking profiles on sites like Facebook and MySpace to make sure they're appealing to employers.
In Romeoville, the unemployment rate was 9.2 percent in April, according to a state unemployment report. That’s an improvement over the March rate of 9.4 percent and better than the 11.1 percent reported a year ago.
Bolingbrook is faring a little better, although unemployment reports jumped to 6.8 percent in April, compared to 6.3 percent in March. In April 2010, the rate was 10.1 percent.
Here’s a look at local unemployment rates:April 2011 March 2011 April 2010 Change over month Change over year Romeoville 9.2 9.4
11.1-0.2 -1.9 Bolingbrook 6.8 6.3 10.1 0.5 -3.3 Plainfield 7.8 7.8 9.6 0.0 -1.8 Woodridge 7.6 7.3 9.3 0.3 -1.7 Naperville 6.0 5.8 8.1 0.2 -2.1