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The scary reality of joblessness is hitting home for many in Fargo-Moorhead

Patti Kordovsky was laid off a month ago from her job as an office manager and sales support person at a local hearing aid center. She's finding it difficult to find a job. (Jay Pickthorn/The Forum)1 / 2
Graphic: Unemployment in Fargo-Moorhead2 / 2

FARGO - You might say Patti Kordovsky is working from home these days. Her new job: finding work.

Kordovsky, who lost her job as an office manager almost a month ago, spends much of her time on her home computer.

It's become her lifeline; her primary job-hunting tool, and the way she keeps in touch with the unemployment office to remain eligible for a $236 check she receives every week.

The 48-year-old Fargo woman is one of more than 4,000 unemployed workers in Fargo-Moorhead, the casualty of a softening job market as the recession hits home.The ax fell Jan. 19, when Kordovsky was told she'd lost her job at a hearing aid sales center and was given two weeks' severance pay. After withholding, she pocketed about $500.

"Then you start the unemployment trail," she says, her term for the gauntlet jobless workers find themselves running to qualify for unemployment and continue their eligibility, all the while looking for work.

"You have to answer

20 million questions," she says, exaggerating to register the frustration she feels at times.

One big frustration: dealing with the discouraging possibility that her future paycheck will be smaller than the one she was collecting.

After more than 20 years of working, mostly in office management and sales support, she was earning $12.25 an hour, with benefits. Most of the openings she's finding are for jobs that pay $9 to $10 an hour.

Marty Aas, manager of the Job Service North Dakota center in Fargo, says a lower paycheck is one reality experienced job seekers are confronting in today's softer job market.

Many employers, local job counselors agree, are cautious about hiring because of the economic uncertainty. Some of those still hiring are turning to temporary workers, rather than adding permanent staff.

Simply put, Kordovsky and her fellow job seekers find themselves sellers in a buyer's market.

A few numbers help to illustrate:

• Job openings at the Job Service North Dakota center in Fargo fell from 2,400 on Jan. 1 to 1,936 on Feb. 12, a decrease of 19.3 percent.

• Meanwhile, the rise in jobless claims provides a mirror image of the slumping job listings. Claims for unemployment checks at the Fargo center are more than double the number a year ago.

• Last week, the job center logged 2,190 visits, compared to an average of 1,300 to 1,400 last summer.

"We've seen a large increase in the last few months," Aas says.

"What we have is higher competition for those jobs out there," says John Funk, area manager for Spherion in Fargo-Moorhead and Bismarck-Mandan. "It's the supply-and-demand game."

• Unemployment in Fargo-Moorhead as of December, the most recent figures available, was 3.4 percent. That's a big uptick from November's 2.7 percent, but just slightly above the 3.3 percent rate in January 2008, reflecting the seasonal falloff in work.

By comparison, North Dakota's jobless rate in January was 3.5 percent, well below Minnesota's 6.9 percent and the 7.3 percent national rate. When the metro area's new jobless rates come out soon, Aas predicts a slight rise.

"If you're unemployed, there probably is no great place to be, but Fargo's one of the best places to be," says David Dietz, vice president of Preference Personnel in Fargo. "We're still lucky, I think."

For her part, Kordovsky is not in a position to consider herself lucky. So far she's applied for about 25 jobs, and is waiting for the phone to ring.

"As far as the job market out there, it's kind of gloomy," she says. Given the metro area's strong college presence, she sometimes feels as though she's suddenly in competition with a flood of 20-somethings entering the job market.

But she's following the advice of job counselors by updating her computer skills and she's willing to be flexible in considering her options. In her spare time, she works on her typing speed.

"It just forces me to look at other opportunities," Kordovsky says. "You just have to bend."

Being thrust into the unemployment ranks is stressful and worrisome, but her husband has been supportive, and she tries to keep her present troubles in perspective.

"It's not the end of the world," she says. "Bad things are losing your health or the love of your life."