SIKESTON -- Right now isn't a good time to search for a job, and recent reports show that claims for unemployment keep rising.
"It's a sign of the times -- this is nothing new, we went through this about 20 years ago," said Missy Marshall, executive director of the Sikeston Area Chamber of Commerce. "It will turn around."
But things will likely get worse before they improve.
"I don't think it's over or bottomed out yet," said Ed Dust, director of economic development for the city of Sikeston.
The area has been hit recently by layoffs at major employers. Last week, Noranda announced a "restructuring" that includes 228 job cuts at its New Madrid facility. Those cuts began in November and continued last week, and about 50 positions are expected to be cut in the first quarter of 2009.
And in August, about 80 employees were laid off at Cott Beverages in Sikeston, in a reorganization of the company. There have also been some smaller layoffs in the area, according to Marshall.
The situation across the country is the same.
On Thursday, Wall Street expected the government to report that new claims for unemployment benefits increased last week.
Claims late last month reached 543,000, the highest level in 16 years. Last week's report showed the number of people continuing to claim unemployment benefits reached nearly 4.09 million, the highest level since December 1982. Economists expect that number rose to 4.1 million.
Even when the larger work force is factored in, the proportion of workers who are continuing to receive jobless benefits matches a level last reached in September 1992, when the economy was recovering from a recession.
A recent Manpower Outlook Survey for the United States showed conditions holding steady for the fourth quarter, but forecasted a slower January than normal.
"The hiring pace is expected to slow further in the first quarter of 2009," said Debbie Glenn, branch manager at the Sikeston office. "The vast majority of employers are indicating that they will take a 'wait and see' approach before adding or further reducing staff. "
Despite everything, local leaders remain optimistic.
"We at the city are working every day to keep the jobs we've got as well as attract new ones," said Dust
He pointed out one positive. Over the summer, Orgill Inc. announced Sikeston as the location for a 795,000 square-foot "Mid-America SuperCenter," which is currently under construction in the Sikeston Industrial Park.
Dust said that Orgill officials plan to begin hiring several employees in the second quarter of 2009. He didn't have any specific numbers, although the company has said it intends to employ 350 people within five years.
"They still have a goal to be in operation by Sept. 1," said Dust. He also said plans are in the works for an Orgill office to be set up in Sikeston after the first of the year.
Glenn said she expects to see an all-around upturn in the second quarter.
But that doesn't help now, and Marshall said she gets quite a few calls daily from people looking for jobs or just advice.
"They have family members looking for jobs and just want to put the bug in my ear that so and so needs a job, if you hear of anything," she said.
She had some advice for those affected by the slumping economy.
"I'd say to cast a wide net and be open to any possibility of a job," said Marshall. "You can't be real specific in this market and you can't expect a certain salary -- you may have to take a lower salary to get your foot in the door."
"And you may have to take a job that's not in your specific field to get you through," she continued. "You may be overqualified for a job, but you don't know what it can lead to -- that's where you just have to have an open mind and a positive spirit about it."
One resource a lot of employers are utilizing are temporary workers. "That way they can fluctuate with their market and not be bound by the current employee situation," she said.
Glenn agreed. "In economic times like we are in a lot of business will hire through an employment agency like Manpower until they see how the economy is going to go," she said.
"You just need to find something that's going to work for you and your family in the short-term," she said.
For someone who hasn't been laid off but fears it is upcoming, Marshall said to go ahead and have a resume ready, just in case.
Marshall also advised those on the job hunt to remember all the resources available and take advantage of them. "Sometimes you get so caught up you forget those resources are out there," she said, referring to local employment agencies, online services or even job fairs.
Anyone who has considered developing new skills may want to think about that at this time, too.
"For the laid off workers it is a great time to sign up with an employment agency like Manpower and take care of the free training to increase skills," said Glenn. "When things get going employers are going to want the most skilled employees."
Or for those who have been pondering going back to school for a degree, now may be the time, Glenn added.
And there is one thing consumers can do to boost the local economy -- spending their money in town. We don't have everything for everybody, but where you can, support your local economy so that we can have jobs," urged Marshall.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
For those laid off, it's also important to check with the local Department of Social Services to learn of any assistance they can receive, even if it will just be short-term.
"If people think they can apply, we want them to apply," said Brian Hauswirth, spokesperson for the state department. He said that, like many states, Missouri was affected by the economy when it comes to the number of food stamps issued.
For instance, in October, 332,156 households received stamps, compared to 314,167 in April, he said. Hauswirth acknowledged there are always some who qualify but don't apply, but urged them to do so.
That is what this program is for -- the whole aim is to help families that are in need," he said. "(Food stamps) are a nutrition assistance program. Many times, it is for people who have fallen on difficult times."
Qualifications are online at www.dss.mo.gov. Application forms are also available there, as well as at county offices. Most are processed within one month.