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JOBLESS FRUSTRATED BUT NOT GIVING UP

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Inland region’s lagging recovery highlights ‘tale of two economies’

By Chris Levister

William F. Baskerville knows that losing the opportunity to cultivate the “minds of California’s brightest students from every background” is like losing “a precious national resource.” That’s why despite the Inland Empire’s posted unemployment rate of 12.6 percent in March the education consultant is not giving up on finding a job.

“I refuse be relegated to the government’s ‘uncounted’ roles,” he said referring to the millions of unemployed Americans who have simply dropped out of the labor market. Some have retired, gone back to college or simply given up on finding work. Unemployed since March 2010, Baskerville spends hours each day at the computer in his Norco home in what seems like an endless search.

Baskerville has more than 20 years experience working with educators, universities, and businesses to ensure that young people have access to higher education and are prepared for tomorrow’s world. A substantial resume landed him temporary part-time jobs at an Orange County Internet marketing company and with the California Department of Education. In 2011 both positions were eliminated due to budget cuts.

"I scoured dozens of education sites," he says. "I checked Career Builders, Monster, Hot Jobs and Craig's List. I’m an e-mail junkie, Facebook fanatic and Twitter nuisance. It's my full time job, looking for a job."

That's been Baskerville’s daily routine since he, his wife and their three kids moved from the Orange County coastal enclave of Aliso Viejo in late 2010 to escape the soaring cost of living and what many economic experts call the ‘tale of two economies.” California employers are hiring again, swelling payrolls in March as the state’s start-and-stop recovery appears to have gotten back on track.

Orange County and communities all along the state’s coastline have largely bounced back from the recession, some even prospering with high-tech and export businesses growing and tourism coming back.

At the same time, communities from just an hour’s drive inland and stretching all the way to the Nevada and Arizona borders struggle with stubbornly high unemployment, a persistent housing crisis and a near standstill construction market.

Inland Empire analysts say despite encouraging signs of rising home prices in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, most see an economy straggling behind its coastal neighbors. In fact, in January, Forbes magazine named Riverside the hardest city in the country in which to find a job.

“This is really a tale of two economies,” said Stephen Levy, the director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy. “The coastal areas are either booming or at least doing well, and the areas that were devastated still have a long way to go. The places that existed just for housing are not going to come back anytime soon.” Baskerville and others driven out of coastal cities because of rising costs say they aren’t giving up on crafting their future in the Inland Empire.

"I see a diamond in the rough. Jobs in education transportation and, construction are coming back if but slowly. The housing stock is aging. People who can’t afford to live and work in places like Orange County are rethinking their options,” he said recalling the sobering job hunting experience that recently changed his job status.

"My former employer told me about a job opportunity at a large company that recruits college graduates to teach in low-income schools. He made me swear not to tell anyone else or take anyone. That lead me to believe the tip was an exclusive,” he said. Baskerville says when he arrived at the offices in Riverside he encountered around 20 to 30 people. After being told to line up in queue, the numbers quickly grew from 30 to 50, 50 to 100 and finally 100 to 200.

“My heart sank. The line stretched around the building. The time in the line took an hour and finally we went upstairs to the main quarters, where we had to answer around 10 questions on paper and if passed go through to a role playing exercise. I got there at 10:00 a.m. and came home at 9:30p.m., feeling blessed and elated that after all the searching and waiting (not the endless wait in the queue but the 2 year wait) I was finally a BMW – ‘Black Man Working’. Baskerville says he’s thankful to find work, but when he glances at his own bottom line, the reality is grim. His salary is one-third that of his previous job. “I’m working longer hours for less pay.” Still Baskerville insists there’s a lesson buried in the murky, frustrating world of job hunting.

“Please keep trying. Never give up,” he says. “There are jobs in the Inland Empire,” he said. “Speaking of the depression and the prospect of turning the U.S. economy around, Franklin D Roosevelt said in his first inaugural speech "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself!" I guess those words ring as true today as they did then,” said Baskerville.

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