Salida father, daughter support each other amid work hunt

April 8, 2010 

BR Jobs Search 01

Khira McGhee, 20, was looking for administrative or receptionist work before recently getting hired at Love's Travel Stop in Ripon, Calif. Her father, Roosevelt McGhee, 52, was laid off from Kaiser Permanente in August of 2009 and is now on his second extension of unemployment. They live together in Salida, Calif. March 30, 2010. (Brian Ramsay/bramsay@modbee.com)

BRIAN RAMSAY — Modesto Bee

To be unemployed in this recession means learning how to adapt.

Adapt to not working, adapt to new ways of finding work, adapt to a work force with sometimes hundreds of applicants for every open position.

Salida resident Roosevelt McGhee and daughter Khira McGhee know all about adapting.

The 52-year-old father had worked for 26 years for the Mervyn's Distribution Center in Fremont. When he was laid off in April 2008, Roosevelt went from a stable job making $20.55 an hour to navigating the unemployment system.

"I had confidence I'd find another job," he said. "I didn't think it'd get as bad as it is."

After seven months of searching, he did find work — at Wal-Mart. His hourly pay: $8.57.

"It hurt," he said of the drastic pay cut. "But I liked the job, and I got a chance to meet people."

He worked there for six months stocking shelves and helping customers. Then in April of last year he heard

about an opportunity at the Kaiser Distribution Center in Livermore.

That job, while temporary, paid about what he made at Mervyn's, so he left Wal-Mart in hopes it would become permanent. But it didn't, and in August he found himself unemployed again.

Meanwhile, 20-year-old daughter Khira was in the midst of her own career changes. The 2007 Davis High School graduate had been living in Oakland with her grandmother and working at a McDonald's since earning her diploma.

She heard about a chance to go back to school for training in Modesto and came home to live with her father last year. She finished her administrative assistant course and went to look for work alongside her father.

But this time it was the daughter teaching the father. Roosevelt's past major job search experience had been before 1981, when he was hired by Mervyn's. Before, he'd found jobs with a handshake. Now, he had to use a mouse.

"It's different for me because of my age," he said. "When I was younger, we had to go to the company and fill out job applications. Now you just go to the Internet."

Khira taught him how to use sites such as www.CareerBuilder.com, www.Monster.com, http://CentralValleyJobs.com and http://Hotjobs.com. She helped him update his résumé, input application information, navigate online registration -- all while doing her job search.

Together, they've gone to the unemployment office, applied for positions and attended job fairs, becoming each other's support system.

Roosevelt gets up every morning and scans the job sites from about 8 to 11 a.m. It's his ritual. His daughter also does searches, and makes sure to keep an eye out for jobs her dad might apply for, too.

What they've found are long lines and endless applicant pools. Roosevelt said he was among more than 400 people applying for work at WinCo and more than 200 waiting one day at the new Black Bear Diner. He has received one serious call-back, but it fizzled out, like so many others.

Khira's search for work in her field also hit a brick wall.

"I've been looking for entry-level administrative assistant and receptionist openings," she said. "There are jobs, but so many other people are looking and they have more experience. It's frustrating."

Last week, she was able to find a part-time job at Love's Gas Station in Ripon. But it's not full-time, and the hours aren't fixed.

"I'm not optimistic about (finding work in my field)," she said. "I'm thinking about going back to school to become a certified nurse's assistant."

Enrollment would depend on her qualifying for a grant or funding, as she did for her administrative assistant training. Then it would take two years at Modesto Junior College or six months at a trade school to complete a program.

Roosevelt is on his second extension of his unemployment benefits. Neither father nor daughter has medical coverage. He has burned through his savings and his 401(k) from Mervyn's while searching for work.

"All those years, all that taken away like that," he said. "I just want to work to make sure there is food on my table and that my car is insured. It's been getting frustrating because physically I know I can do these jobs."

Still, Roosevelt is optimistic. He said that after the slowdown of the holidays, he is beginning to see more jobs pop up online. And he will keep applying, sending his résumé into cyberspace and hoping it lands in real hands.

"I feel like I might be able to find something," he said. "I feel like it might be opening up a little bit. Still, I haven't been getting those phone calls."

And neither has his daughter — or many other job seekers in the valley.

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or 578-2284.

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