If the recession has hit, Fairfax County must have developed an antidote.
Despite hundreds at the soon-to-be-completed Fair Oaks Mall outside Fairfax City, applications have only trickled into the big stores locating there.
"Fairfax is very, very weird. The store just can't get anybody to work,"
"Fairfax is very, very weird. The store just can't get anbody to work," says Ted Erfer, a spokesman for Sears Roebuck and Co. In four weeks Sears has recieved only a few hundred applications for the more than 300 part-time positions available. When the company last opened a store in the metropolitan area -- at Fredericksburg in February -- 1,400 applications poured in in the first two days.
Erfer attibutes the difference to the affluence of Fairfax County. "My guess is that there just isn't a lot of unemployment in the area. You have a lot of housewives who would prefer to sit by their pools," he says.
Fairfax has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. Statistics for April from the Virginia Employment Commission show that only 2.7 percent of the county's population was unemployed, compared to 6 percent for the District of Columbia and 7.5 percent nationally.
Nor are the District's jobless likely to be among the few applicants at Fair Oaks Mall. Inadequate public transportation precludes the unemployed, mostly from Southeast Washington, from looking for work in the Fairfax area, says a case worker at the D.C. Department of Employment Services.
"A mother with a young child finds it impossible to work in Fairfax because she has to leave the house by 6 a.m.," the case worker, who asked to remain unidentified, complained.
At Fair Oaks, near Route 50 and I-66, the Woodward and Lothrop and Hecth's employment trailers sit almost abandoned amid construction debris. The expected long lines never formed. "It's really been going slowly, considering we're in a recession," says a woman at Woodies' front desk.
Although the store has received about 1,000 applications for its 300 nonmangerial openings, the turnout is lower than expected, according to one employe.
Only 50 people showed up the first day compared to 250 at an opening in Gaithersburg's Lake Forest Mall two years ago, says Linda Lehner, employment manager for Woodies. But, she says, "We're not concerned. We still have another month to hire."
Lehner and other store managers said most applicants are college and high school students looking for summer jobs. Some are being hired, although most stores prefer year-round employes.
Still others are looking for work as a remedy for boredom. "I'm tired of sitting around at home," said a 27-year-old Manassas woman visiting the J.C. Penney's personnal office. Another said she is job seeking because she doesn't have enough to do at her present one.
In six weeks, Penney's has received more than 1,500 applications for 350 positions. William Sheppard, personnel manager for the Fair Oaks store, said his store is doing better than his competitors because it stationed a trailer at Dulles Industrial Park to advertise job openings and interview applicants.
One reason Fairfax isn't feeling the recession's pinch is the makeup of its economy. Only 4 percent of the county's population is employed in manufacturing.
"During recessions, it's not that the economy declines," says Jeffrey Bates, a county analyst. "It's just that it doesn't grow. You don't see the massive layoffs you do in the industrial areas."