Antioch’s 13.1 percent unemployment rate has more than doubled in the past 2½ years, according to the California Employment Development Department. A year ago 12.4 percent of Antioch residents were out of work, a percentage that’s been in double digits every month but one (when it was 9.9 percent) since January 2009. But Pittsburg leads in unemployment among East Cities: 18.2 percent.
Brentwood’s unemployment rate is 10.4 percent, up from 9.8 percent unemployment a year ago. Brentwood’s jobless rate has been in double digits every month this year except one (9.7 percent). It peaked at 10.7 percent in March.
Oakley, which usually plays second fiddle to Antioch and Brentwood, continues to boast the lowest unemployment rate of East County cities: 8.5 percent. That’s up from 8 percent a year ago, but is down from the high of 8.8 percent in January.
When unincorporated towns are considered, the real winner in East County is Discovery Bay with an 8.3 percent unemployment rate – although that is up from 7.9 percent a year ago. Unfortunately, Knightsen has the dubious distinction of having the worst unemployment rate in the county: 23.8 percent. Bethel Island is tied with Bayview for the county’s fourth highest unemployment rate: 21.6 percent.
Opportunity Junction, a job-training and placement center in Antioch, has seen increased demand for its classes as well as longer wait times to place graduates. “We are still seeing people get hired,” said Deputy Director Jesse Golden. “So all is not lost. People are getting jobs. But it’s tougher. And the more skills people can offer an employer, the better off they are. In response to this situation, we have asked people to get customer service and Microsoft certification so they can show they have higher skills than the average office worker. It’s doable; it’s just tougher.”
Opportunity Junction provides three office skills and customer service classes each year for low-income, unemployed people. They take place Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for 12 weeks. Nearly 200 people showed up and 120 people applied for the 20 seats in the last class. About four out of five graduates find a job.
“It is taking people longer to find employment,” acknowledges Golden. “Employers’ expectations are higher because they can pick through a bigger pool of applicants, and wages are depressed from what we saw a couple years ago. They can get a higher quality employee at a lower price right now. The aim of our program is to get people on the road to self sufficiency and be able to support themselves on their wages. This (job market) is not what we like to see. But people do what they have to do. They are dogged and keep looking and have to start at lower wages than they would a couple years ago.”
Opportunity Junction starts taking applications on Monday, Aug. 30 for its next class, which begins Sept. 27. The application can be downloaded at www.opportunityjunction.org. Application sessions will be held at 3102 Delta Fair Blvd. in Antioch on Aug. 30, Sept. 7 and 13 starting at 10 a.m. For more information call Natalie Georgia at 925-776-1133.
For those unable to get into the class or who are not looking for support or service jobs, there are other options, starting with Opportunity Junction’s evening classes and use of computers, for which no application is necessary. East Bay Works, 281 Pine Street in Brentwood (phone 925-634-2195), provides job assistance workshops, resume evaluation and career counseling, among other services. “No one who is seeking a job or to increase their skills should neglect finding about what East Bay Works offers,” said Golden. Job assistance workshops and training are also provided at local libraries and community colleges.
To recruit students for their next class and introduce job seekers to all of the other assistance options out there, Opportunity Junction will hold a free job-training workshop on Tuesday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. in the Brentwood Senior Center, 193 Griffin Lane. “Part of the reason we are doing the workshops is we see quite a few folks who are not aware there are other resources,” said Golden. “It’s not that, hey, there’s enough for everybody who needs it. But for those who are persistent and know where to look, there’s more than they realize.”
On Sept. 21 beginning at 5:30 p.m. Opportunity Junction will hold a reception to celebrate a group that’s also had it tough in this never-ending recession: employers.