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Thousands attend jobs fair at Chicago State

ThyatiriTowns representative from Congressman Rush's office tells people waiting line whexpect when they get inside job fair hosted by Bobby

Thyatiria Towns, a representative from Congressman Rush's office, tells people waiting in line what to expect when they get inside to a job fair hosted by Bobby Rush at the Jones Convocation Center at Chicago State University 9501 S. King Drive in Chicago, Illinois, Tuesday, August, 9, 2011. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:24AM

With twin 1-year-old daughters, Justin Echols’ job search is getting the best of him these days.

Echols, 22, of University Park, has been out of work since ending a seasonal job with UPS in February.

“It’s extremely hard. Sometimes I get frustrated, but you can’t do nothing but stick it out,” Echols said. “You go, you hit the pavement, you hear a job will be open in a week or so, and they never bother to call you back.”

Seeking to end that dry spell, Echols was among an estimated 7,000 people who flooded the Chicago State University campus Tuesday for a jobs fair hosted by U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1st).

Michael Smith, of Hazel Crest, said he’s applied for about 200 jobs in two years but has not had one offer.

Steven Mendez, 24, of Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, read the soothing words of the Bible while he waited for chance to meet with some of the 28 employers at the event.

Divine intervention or not, the need is obvious to Rush, who said about 4,700 people signed up for the job fair in just 10 days.

Companies “need employees. I know folks who need jobs. It’s simple to bring them together,” Rush said.

Raphael Langham, 22, of Tinley Park, has not worked for three years.

“It’s been hard. I work different jobs like cutting grass, painting houses, washing cars, just to make some money,” Langham said.

Glancing at the floor of the Jones Convocation Center, Langham said he wasn’t surprised the place was packed with job seekers.

“There’s not a lot out there,” he said.

William Pearson, 52, of Sauk Village, knows the feeling. After driving trucks for 18 years, he’s been unemployed the past year.

“I’m thinking of going back to school, maybe nursing or social work. Maybe a dispatcher,” Pearson said.

He felt confident he could land a job with a railroad company, given his trucking background. Meanwhile, he pays bills thanks to a “couple good friends who’ve been standing by me.”

Outside the building, a long line stretched across campus at noon. There was a feeling of desperation. That didn’t surprise Princess Hoy, who said “the country is going down the toilet.”

Hoy, 42, of Chicago’s South Avalon neighborhood lost her job in human resources with a downtown hotel two years ago. Thankfully, her husband of two months is employed, but they could use more income, she said.

Rush said he was inspired to host the jobs fair because of planned railroad improvements on Chicago’s South Side. Six railroad companies were present, including BNSF, which has 75 job openings in Galesburg, human resources director Duncan Brown said. Starting salaries are around $58,000, he said.

Rush said the jobs fair is about “fighting for the American dream.”

“The key to the economic recovery of this nation is putting America back to work. It’s not the debt ceiling. It’s not a supercommittee in Congress. It’s not health care. The central issue is putting people back to work,” Rush said.

Unlike most in line, Carl Servin, 48, of Chicago’s Ashburn community, walked away from a job one year ago. Laid off as a cable splicer for AT&T, he found work at a Wal-Mart store in Lockport but grew tired of the commute.

“An hour ride each way. An hour lunch. It was a 12-hour day and not worth it, not for $9 an hour,” Servin said. “It’s tough out there. So I heard about this and came here.”

While the unemployed are struggling, they “are not going to give up,” Rush said.

“Wall Street is suffering from a confidence deficiency which doesn’t match the American people,” he said. “They have confidence in our economy. We have some confidence problems with the government, too, but that’s not the issue.”

Later Tuesday, Echols said he didn’t get a job offer during the fair, but after talking with several companies, has a better idea of what employers are looking for.

“I’m on the computer right now applying for jobs at Southwest Airlines,” he said.

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