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Catch-22 for New Orleans job seekers

For New Orleans it’s a “Catch-22.” You can't rebuild without jobs and you can't have jobs without people. NBC's Kevin Tibbles reports.

Cramming a New Orleans job fair Wednesday were people from all walks of life.

“I'm a bus driver,” said one. “I'm a human resources manager,” said another. “I'm a marketing director,” said a third.

But all had one thing in common: “I am looking for a job … I'm ready to work right now ... I'll come to work today!”

The number of jobs lost to Katrina is staggering. Louisiana's unemployment rate doubled to 11.5 percent — the highest in the nation.

“This is almost totally uncharted territory in terms of how this city is going to recover,” says Dr. Jim Richardson, an economics professor at Louisiana State University.

Recruiters from restaurants to rental car agencies and department stores offered steady work in a city that has few places to live, eat or send kids to school. Still, applicants drove in from way out of town, desperate to move home.

The irony of the employment market in New Orleans is that so many jobs have been lost and yet so many new jobs are going unfilled. And it's forcing people on both sides of the paycheck to be creative.

McDonalds is offering a $50 hiring bonus.

“So we can hire today,” explains McDonalds’ manager Linda Dunton, “and you can work today.”

Burger King has upped the ante to $6,000 for those who commit for a year.

The reason, says David Powers, a district manager for Burger King, is, “Some of the employees that we're getting now are teachers, people that used to work in dentist's offices, people that worked in banks.”

Still, much of the menial work is being done by crews of migrant workers who, at night, retire to tent cities on the outskirts of town.

At a town hall meeting Wednesday afternoon, some confronted the mayor about the inequity of it all.

“Is slavery over or what?” one asked. “Are we going to make money or what? I got skills.”

For New Orleans it’s a “Catch-22.” You can't rebuild without jobs and you can't have jobs without people.