ATLANTIC CITY — Laura Hall worked at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort for 26 years and on Atlantic City’s casino floors for 36 years.
Then one day in October, she didn’t anymore.
So this week, a month after the Taj Mahal’s owners closed the casino, Hall made the rounds at a job fair in Bally’s Atlantic City.
She wasn’t alone. Before the sponsors opened the doors where a collection of employers and social-service agencies had set up at tables, dozens of unemployed or underemployed local residents waited to go in and find a lead on their next paychecks.
Many, but not all, lost their jobs in the closing of the Taj, which shut its doors Oct. 10. The event led the New Jersey Coalition for Financial Education to organize the session in a Bally’s ballroom.
Denise Clark, of Pleasantville, was a production cook for 22 years at the Taj. She’s looking for another job in the kitchen, but she also went to school to be a medical assistant, so she has some flexibility in her training. She also has some urgency, because her husband was a Taj chef, so he lost his income in the shutdown, too.
“When it was booming, it was booming,” Clark said. But now that the boom is long gone, “This is not a good feeling. And we’re too old to start over.”
Angela Pate is looking mainly for part-time work, because she’s going back to college for a psychology degree. She also worked in the casinos of Atlantic City, her hometown of 22 years, half of that time as a maintenance mechanic at Tropicana Atlantic City.
“It’s hard to get jobs. There are a lot of people out looking,” said Pate, who regularly checks job-hunting websites but hasn’t found work that works for her.
And David Fabel spent more time in hospitals than casinos as a nurse. But when his latest employer’s staffing contract ran out, Fabel was out of a job but looking to stay in a field in which he has 30 years of experience.
“A lot of places don’t have full-time. It’s part-time or pool, things like that,” he said.
Nasrin Jahan, of Galloway Township, worked 19 years at the Taj and was friendly there with Clark. So the two were glad to see each other even at a job fair, but they have more in common than just a former employer. Jahan’s husband also lost his job recently at an Atlantic City casino, Tropicana, so her family is in trouble, too.
And her current career goal is simple: “Anything, any job. Just a full-time job is what I’m looking for.”
Behind the employers’ desks, recruiters included the Philadelphia Police Department, where Officer Kenneth Scott said the starting salary is almost $49,500, plus full benefits. The department recruits in several states and figured Atlantic City could be fertile ground with its high unemployment rate.
Harry Ross, president of Ross Environmental Solutions, was there looking for a few salespeople, one in Atlantic County.
“We train, there’s a company vehicle, and our salespeople average over $50,000 a year,” he said. “It’s a great job that nobody would ever think is a great job.”
Several other tables were filled by people who had advice and help for workers looking for new jobs. Kimberly Warrick is client-services director for NJ SHARES, a coalition that assists low-income people with energy and utility bills. She’s a regular at job fairs on the theory that “if people are out of work, then they probably need help.”
Other social-service agencies included the United Way, where Fran Wise, a manager, was connecting struggling job hunters with programs that could help them. They included former Taj Mahal casino supervisor Hall, of Millville, who asked how she could find a job that pays $20 an hour to try to replace her better-paying casino job.
Wise mentioned a Rowan University program called Women in Sustainable Employment that might be able to help. Hall said she’d check it out.
“I know I’m not going to make what I did,” Hall said. “Around here now, you’re lucky to get $10 or $13” an hour.