Some of the dirtiest, smelliest, most dangerous jobs are suddenly looking a lot more appealing in this economy.
People who have been out of work for months are lining up for jobs at places they once considered unthinkable: slaughterhouses, sewage plants, prisons.
"I have to just shut my mouth because I can't do anything about it," said Nichole McRoberts of Sedalia, Mo., who pictured more for herself at age 30 than working in a poultry plant, cutting diseased or damaged flesh off chicken carcasses.
Recessions and tight job markets always force some people to take less-desirable or lower-paying work than they are used to. But this recession has been the most punishing job destroyer in at least 60 years, slashing a net total of 6.7 million jobs.
All told, 14.5 million people were out of work last month, with a jobless rate of 9.4 percent. The result is that many people have had to seek jobs they would not have considered in the past.
Take Kristen Thompson. Before the recession, she worked at an upscale Los Angeles-area gym arranging pricey one-on-one personal training sessions. Now she's a guard at a women's prison in rural Wyoming.
After the gym laid her off last year, Thompson spent months looking for work. Even fast food restaurants failed to respond to her application. For each opening, dozens of other people seemed willing to work for less money. When she heard that a prison in Lusk, Wyo., (population 1,447) was hiring, she leapt at the chance.
In her new job, she patrols cellblocks and monitors the mess hall. Back in L.A., she never had to worry about inmates with weapons or drug stashes or prisoners getting into fights. Yet she's hardly complaining. It's a job.
"People have to pay the bills, so what we see is people kind of grasping at straws and taking anything that's available," said Matthew Freedman, assistant professor of labor economics at Cornell University.
The desperation of the long-term jobless has rippled through the labor force. More skilled and educated workers have filled clerical or restaurant jobs. So unskilled workers such as teenagers or high school graduates who once held most of those positions have displaced those even lower on the economic ladder, such as immigrants, Freedman noted.
The intensified competition has hurt all workers - even those who are still employed - because it shrinks wages. Employers don't have to pay more to lure workers.
That helps explain why personal income fell 0.1 percent in June, excluding the one-time benefits of the government's stimulus program. Wages have fallen each month since October - a total of 5 percent over the past eight months.
Indeed, many people who have had to downshift to unsavory jobs have found they're now earning less, too.
With two kids to support and just a high school diploma, McRoberts has few options in the job market.
"I feel like I'm not accomplishing much," said McRoberts, who lives with her boyfriend and children. "I'm paying my bills and my rent, but that's it."
A year ago, McRoberts had a good job building tool boxes at Waterloo Industries Inc. The work was fast-paced and fun. And the nearly $14 an hour was plenty for her and her boyfriend to pay the bills.
But as production slowed, Waterloo cut her hours. By February, she was out of a job.
Around Sedalia, some other employers had begun cutting staff, too. The result was a crowded job market and few openings.
As her options dwindled, McRoberts decided to apply at a Tyson Foods Inc. poultry plant. She found work on the "re-processing line," where damaged birds are sent by Agriculture Department inspectors who spot bruises or sores on carcasses. The plant is wet and noisy. McRoberts worries about injuries when nearby workers use knives to cut birds in a hurry.
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