Herbert Jefferson wore his best outfit to the northeast Washington neighborhood jobs fair yesterday, but even with a new, silky-looking chocolate brown shirt bought with money saved from mowing lawns he was unable to finesse his way onto a payroll.
"What about this job here: transplant coordinator," Jefferson asked a respresentative from the Washington Hospital Center.
"You need a bachelor's degree with a concentration in science," she replied.
"What about a wage-and-salary clerk?" Jefferson winced, pointing to another opening on the list.
The representative asked if he had an associate degree in business and the ability to type at least 40 words per minute.
"Never mind," Jefferson said. Another job seeker took his seat.
And so it went for hundreds of Washington's jobless who jammed into the basement of the Goding Elementary School at 10th and F streets NE early yesterday for a jobs fair sponsored by Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6A.
In many respects, it was a sad affair: Throngs of unemployed people, mostly young, mostly unskilled, mostly black, trying desperately to find work.
"They come in and ask is this a job fair? Is it real? Is it possible that there is a job for me?" said Edith Cromwell, a member of the Anacostia Economic Corporation that helped the ANC with the event. "There are a lot of serious young fellows looking for jobs that just don't seem to be available."
Unlike many white-collar employes who were laid off and can't get back into the job market, here were scores of people who said they had been unable to break into the work force to begin with. Employer representatives repeatedly asked for work experience, to which many of the applicants hung their heads and replied, "None."
There were only a few employers of unskilled workers on hand yesterday. The many young men offering their services as construction workers and manual laborers found no takers.
It was a buyers' market, with employers freely picking and choosing among those most anxious just to get a foot on the economic ladder, even if it was a rung or two lower than expected.
With unemployment here estimated at 10.5 percent, job seekers poured into the school.
"The cross section of people we are getting in here depicts how bad unemployment is throughout the black community," said John R. Redmon, who was interviewing applicants for jobs in the D.C. Department of Environmental Services. "Look at this room: it's full of black people. On one hand, it's good because it shatters the myth that blacks don't want to work. On the other hand, it says to me that some cities may catch hell this summer."
There were nearly two dozen employers represented at the jobs fair.
"We're here because we were asked to be here," said Ernest Vasquez, an Army recruiter. "The fact is, reinlistments are so high we aren't begging for bodies."
"I'm looking for skilled nurses for the D.C. school system," said one employment counselor. "But you have to be licensed. So far, we haven't filled one vacancy."
One of the few employers offering jobs for the unskilled was the Southland Corp., owner of the 7-11 chain. It needed clerks and stock boys.
Herbert Jefferson said that he had been out of work for nine months until he landed a job as maintenence man. That was the best that he could do, he said, even with a a bachelor's degree in business administration from Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. Then his work hours were cut in half, he said, throwing his life into disarray.
"Survival, right now, is a day-to-day thing," said Jefferson, who is 26. "My plans have been shot. I can't get my car fixed and I'm behind in all my bills, including my rent. I was hoping to get something in line with having four years of college. But right now, I just need a job."