Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011 | 2 a.m.
She was a productive member of the community, held casino industry jobs for most of her professional life. Now, Donna McQuinn senses that people look past her, an invisible character in a country where self-worth is often measured by the jobs we fill.
She is a high school graduate but has no college degree. She hasn’t had a job for two years.
She’s eight days late in paying the $158 weekly rent at a rundown residential hotel near Maryland Parkway, and could find herself homeless any day. After 99 weeks of unemployment benefits that expired months ago, she’s down to her last $70, surviving on $200 a month in food stamps. Night after night, she eats just noodles.
“I’ve lost my sense of self-esteem,” McQuinn said. “I call it being a person, and I’ve lost that. I used to have hope. I still want to hold onto it, but it’s very hard to feel hopeful. I cry every night. I couldn’t make it on the streets if I had to. It’s scary out there.”
The former casino cage worker at Strip and Lake Tahoe casinos was one of an estimated 400 people checking job postings Friday at Nevada JobConnect on Maryland Parkway, one of several operated by the Nevada Employment, Training and Rehabilitation Department.
She had not heard the newest numbers, released Friday, which placed the state’s unemployment rate for August at 13.4 percent, up from 12.9 percent in July. Both were better than the statewide figure of 14.9 percent recorded in August 2010.
The depressed construction industry continued to be a chief contributor to the state’s worst employment environment since the 1930s, a dynamic that was intensified by California’s worsening jobs market, which saw its unemployment rate climb to 12.1 percent last month. The Nevada neighbor is the chief driver of this state’s tourism economy.
No matter, McQuinn and the other job seekers do not require an economics degree to grasp the depth of the ongoing collapse. The state agency had more than 200 positions posted on its jobs board Friday morning, ranging from minimum-wage sales positions to $36,000-a-year marketing jobs.
Like many of those scouring the job listings, McQuinn has applied for hundreds of jobs during the past two years, rarely getting a call for an interview. “Age is playing a big role,” noted Debbie Kirkland, a 56-year-old former elementary schoolteacher who sat two chairs over from McQuinn, who nodded in agreement.
“I wish I had more training. I might be old but I can still learn,” the ex-casino worker said. “Back in the day I could fill out an application and always get the job I wanted.”
She’s not comfortable working on a computer, never had to when she was changing cash for casino chips at the Mirage and Caesars Palace and Caesars Tahoe, and can’t afford a laptop or broadband service to search for jobs from home. The JobConnect office has computers and Internet service, so McQuinn muddles through as she fills out online applications, but she finds the process dehumanizing. Corporate human resources departments never call back or send letters explaining whether or why they chose others for the jobs.
“The HR world is very cold,” said Ben Daseler, office supervisor at the Nevada JobConnect location on Maryland Parkway.
A year ago McQuinn was jumped by a group of teens as she walked along a downtown Las Vegas sidewalk. She was bloodied and bruised, further shaking her shattered confidence. “When I had a job, I was a somebody. Now I’m more of a nobody,” she said, “and people sense that. They look right through you.”
She has contemplated suicide but has found the strength to push ahead. “I want to work. I want to work. I want to work,” she said, her intensity level increasing as she repeated each sentence.
“Unemployment just leads to more homelessness, more depression and the suicide rates will keep going up. You lose something when you don’t feel worthy. I’ve gone two years without a job, and there’s no one in your life to say you’re doing good. We all need a place to go, a place that makes you feel productive and good about yourself. We all do.”