Confidence, optimism grow in pockets of U.S. as firms rehire

At U.S. Steel's Minntac plant in Mountain Iron, Minn., all but about a dozen of the hundreds of workers who were laid off starting in March are back, says Mike Woods, president of United Steelworkers Local 1938. About 960 workers were rehired.

Woods says people are feeling more confident. "We live for right now and hope it continues in this direction," he says. "Things can change quick, though."

Economists aren't predicting big increases in employment. The Conference Board, a private research group, says online help-wanted ads are up 300,000 since April, including a 5% increase in August, but the group doesn't expect job growth until the end of the year.

"When employers are bringing back workers to ramp up production, that's unequivocally a good thing. The question becomes how prolonged and sustained that will be," says Mark Price, a labor economist at the Keystone Research Center, a non-partisan think tank in Harrisburg, Pa.

Some employers are giving their workers more hours instead of rehiring and others might conclude that they can get by with fewer workers, Price says. "I'm a bit worried because we are in such a deep hole," he says.

Some of the Simonton workers who endured layoffs still aren't sure how secure their jobs are. Melinda Landsaw, 28, was let go last December. Although her husband, Matt, who also works at the factory, kept his job, they considered selling their house and moving in with her mom. They used their savings to pay bills.

Now that she's back at work, Landsaw says, "I'm hoping the worst is over, but I'm not holding my breath," she says. She works as many overtime hours as she can get in case she's laid off again.

Bob Criss smiles as he hauls packaged windows and doors to the bay where they're loaded onto trucks at the 225,000-square-foot Simonton Windows factory outside Paris on State Highway 133.

Simonton's 348 production employees work 12-hour shifts and make from $9.45 to $13.75 an hour, plant manager Tony Atzbach says. He says he was able to bring workers back in part because of increased demand thanks to federal stimulus programs that offer tax credits to buyers of energy-efficient doors and windows.

When he was laid off in December, Criss, 44, was told not to count on being called back. "I was devastated," he says. "I was worried about not being able to take care of my family."

Then things got worse. "My whole life I said that if I ever wanted a job, there was a job out there. But I went out looking for work and I couldn't find anything," he says. "I couldn't believe nobody was hiring. That was the scary part."

When the call came asking him to report back to the Simonton factory, Criss says, "I was thrilled to death. I'm surprised I didn't do cartwheels all the way here."

Even better, his 19-year-old stepson, Shawn Williams, was hired for a temporary job at Simonton. He had been working one day a week washing dishes at a restaurant.

When he got the job offer last month, Williams says, "I couldn't stop saying 'thank you.' " Even if he's laid off over the winter, he says, he has a good chance of being rehired next spring. "I feel really lucky," he says.

So does Dave Grovier. He was laid off by another factory in January and was hired for a seasonal job by Simonton last month. Grovier, 54, has a 9-year-old son, Michael. Grovier's wife, Lisa, has cerebral palsy and can't work.

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