In this economy, job openings can draw a crowd.
On Friday, dozens of Payson residents lined up at the Department of Economic Security office to apply for jobs at Big 5 Sporting Goods, which is planning to open a new store in town next month.
For many, it was the fifth or sixth job they had applied for in the past year and, lamentably, probably not the last.
Marcella Proctor, 37, of Payson, said she had been looking for work for the last year and a half.
When she heard Big 5 was hiring, she jumped at the opportunity because openings don’t come around often, she said.
With people competing even for fast food jobs, she said it has been a struggle to find work.
Chris Henderson, 28, said he had just moved to town and already applied for a number of jobs, but with no luck.
Proctor and Henderson are among thousands of Gila County residents without work.
In September, the county’s unemployment dropped to 8.9 percent, after holding steady at 9.6 percent the last three months.
Although that represents a slight improvement, it still leaves some 1,985 Gila County residents registered for unemployment. Estimates suggest many others needing full-time work settled for something part time. Still others have given up their job search.
That includes people like Proctor and Henderson, both of whom are not on unemployment and therefore not included in the official statistics.
Overall, the Arizona economy has improved markedly in the last year. However, much of that recovery has come in Maricopa County, where the unemployment rate in September dropped to 6.7 percent.
Statewide, the rate dropped slightly to 8.2 percent — lagging the national figure of 7.8 percent.
Still, a year ago, Arizona’s rate was at 9.4 percent and the country was at 9 percent.
For Proctor and Henderson, their past mistakes haunt them during every job interview.
Both have criminal records. For Proctor, it is a domestic violence conviction from 2004 and for Henderson, a drug charge.
Henderson said he submitted an application with Big 5, but was turned down because of his record. Proctor could apply because her conviction was a misdemeanor.
Although both said they have learned from their transgressions, they said their punishments have stretched far beyond the courtroom.
With so many people competing for work, those without a record are not surprisingly picked over those with records.
“It has been a struggle to get back on my feet,” said Proctor, who has four children. “It has been really hard.”
When we caught up with Proctor, she had just left the DES office and was all smiles.
She said she felt confident about her interview despite an estimated 100 people also trying for the job.
When asked about her overall search for work, Proctor’s mood quickly turned.
Through tears, she said it had been a tremendous struggle.
Without the help of her church, she said she would be without food for her children.
Since being laid off, Proctor said she had tried everything, from cleaning homes to washing laundry, but hadn’t managed to secure permanent work.
“Sometimes I feel really disappointed and unlucky,” she said.
Proctor said she just needs someone to give her a chance.
“I have changed,” she said.
Henderson said he also needed a break.
Without work, he has no way to buy food.
On Friday, Henderson wasn’t heading into the DES office for a job, but to apply for food stamps.