Teaming Up to Help Residents Find Work

When Dwayne Carter left New Orleans the day before Hurricane Katrina hit, he never imagined that five weeks later, he would still be without a home and forced to look for a way to earn a living in an unfamiliar city.

"Normally, when they say a hurricane's coming through New Orleans, we leave for a day or two and then come back, but obviously that didn't happen this time," said the lifelong resident of the Big Easy. "We left with just the clothes on our back."

Carter, 44, worked two jobs in New Orleans before the hurricane -- a full-time position as a handyman at a storage company during the week, and weekend shifts cooking at a restaurant. When he left town ahead of the hurricane, the only money he had was a paycheck for the last two weeks at the handyman job.

He is still unable to see the damage to his second-story apartment and has accepted the reality that it may be months before he can go home.

Carter and his fiancée, Jeane Horton, were able to move in with Jeane's daughter temporarily at her home in Shreveport, La. They bought a few new clothes, chipped in for some household supplies, and spent every day trying to find jobs.

"I'm not the type that can sit around all day, and when you're at somebody else's house, you have to help out. We were out every day looking for work," Carter said.

Unprecedented, Immediate Job Loss

The government has not released any estimates on how many people lost their jobs as a result of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, but some early assessments have put the number at more than 400,000. Many of those people, like Carter, are trying to find work in new cities, making the mass unemployment and displacement of so many at one time an unprecedented problem.

The Labor Department and various nonprofit organizations have pooled resources with local business communities to find available jobs in new cities and make job searching easier. A series of job fairs across the country, focused in major relocation sites like Houston, Atlanta and Shreveport, have been organized to benefit Katrina survivors, and the Labor Department assembled an online job bank aimed directly at displaced workers.

Some have found temporary work to keep a steady income until they return home, while others have signed on for permanent jobs in their new hometowns.

Willing to Do Anything

For the first few weeks, Carter had very little luck. With more than 20 years experience as a cook at restaurants and hotels, he tried to find a similar position somewhere around Shreveport. Most of the jobs he interviewed for were entry level, and he said some employers were scared off by his salary history.

"I think a lot of people thought it was too much and didn't want to pay me, but all I wanted was a job to get my foot in the door," Carter said.

Two weeks ago, he attended a job fair in Shreveport set up by Goodwill Industries International and found booths with more than 1,000 open jobs. Going booth to booth, Carter developed several leads and set up interviews.

He finally landed a job cooking at a senior citizens' home and started work last week. Jeane found a job working on the banquet staff at Sam's Town Casino, a riverboat casino in Shreveport, and the two are now searching for an apartment.

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