HAMMOND | Calumet City resident James Edwards worked for a janitorial supply company for 21 years, until the company lost a contract with the city of Chicago last year.
Another firm submitted a lower bid, and Edwards was one of 50 workers who was laid off.
Since then, he has gone to warehouses, hospitals and staffing companies, including Staff Source in Hammond. He has to visit a friend's home to apply for jobs online, since that's how most employers prefer to get applications these days.
After a year of unemployment, Edwards has not been able to find anything. The only jobs in his line of work that he comes across are on the north side of the Chicago metropolitan area, and they generally pay close to minimum wage.
With the high price of gas, Edwards figures he would not come out ahead if he had to commute all the way up to the north side.
"It doesn't make sense to do if I'm not even going to break even," he said. "I'd like something on the South Side that's not too far out."
The local economy has been adding jobs, but they have mostly been low-paying or part-time. Restaurants, hotels and retailers are currently doing much of the hiring, mainly for entry-level positions, said Linda Woloshansky, president and chief executive officer of Valparaiso-based Center of Workforce Innovation.
Employers also have been hiring part-time because they are reluctant to take on more full-time employees.
"There's a lot of employers who are just a little concerned about the economy, interest rates, growth and the Affordable Care Act," Woloshansky said. "They are either holding off of hiring or adding part-time temporary jobs until they see whether or not they can hire full-time, and how many employees they can afford to have."
The industry that is adding jobs at the fastest rate in Northwest Indiana so far this year is retail, which typically offers low-paying jobs. In the Gary metropolitan area, retail trade jobs have grown by 6.73 percent from 32,700 jobs in July 2012 to 34,900 jobs in July of this year, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.
Jobs at bars and in food services also grew by 1.75 percent over the same period.
Another low-paying industry – leisure and hospitality – accounted for the most new jobs in July in the Gary metro area, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. Hotels, motels and other tourism-related businesses added 800 jobs in July.
The higher-paying manufacturing industry only added 200 jobs, and construction and government both posted double-digit declines in employment.
Gordon Chilcott, who recently moved from Lowell to Crown Point, has a resume that is full of welding, pipe fitting and maintenance experience. But he spends hours surfing websites such as Indiana Career Connect, and the only openings he ever sees are for minimum wage jobs. The only gigs he gets through a staffing service are temporary.
Typically, someone will get hurt at a local factory, and Chilcott will fill in until they get better and can return to work. One month he might be caulking, and the next he might be lifting boxes with a pallet jack.
"It's always simply stuff in production, moving a dolly from one side of the factory to the other," he said. "I want to find a career the way my parents did. They both worked 30 years at Ford Motor Assembly Plant. I can't get anything longer than three months, and it's lucky if I get called back at all."