Unemployed deal with challenges of finding work

By Derrick Knutson—

The frustration is palpable among the unemployed people who attend networking meetings at the WorkForce Center in Forest Lake every other Wednesday.

These are highly experienced, and in many cases, highly educated individuals who have been turned down countless times for employment, even though many are willing to work for pay far less than what they were making before they were laid off.

Taylors Falls resident Denise Gerdes, 49, has been searching for work since 2010 when she lost her job working a contract position for the state.

Gerdes has nearly a decade of post-secondary education. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications and education and a master’s degree in science education.

She has decades of experience in numerous fields, but hasn’t been able to find work.

And she’s been looking, exhaustively, all around the state for employment.

She said some job seekers keep track of how many applications they’ve filled out, but for her keeping tabs on that number has become depressing.

She estimated she’s filled out hundreds in the two-plus years she’s been unemployed.

“I just applied for a position that pays $12,000 a year,” she said at the networking meeting. “I was like, ‘What am I doing?’”

She just ran out of unemployment compensation from the state about two weeks ago.

Her story is not unique.

The WorkForce Center was filled with 16 other people May 23 in similar predicaments, and more than 60 members belong to the networking group that meets there.

Residents primarily from Chisago, Washington and Isanti counties meet at the center to share job leads, hear about other networking events, offer emotional support to one another and receive job-hunting advice from professionals like Michele Kirby.

Kirby, an employment specialist with the Dislocated Worker Program, said WorkForce centers across the state offer numerous resources to those seeking jobs, but even with that help finding employment is sometimes difficult.

Some quickly secure employment with the aid of the WorkForce Center and networking groups, but for others the process is more cumbersome.

Job seekers angered about unemployment percentages

Politicians around the state and country might be touting lower unemployment numbers, and it’s possibly true that unemployment has decreased in recent months.

However, the members of the networking group said the official state unemployment numbers are not accurate, and Kirby agreed.

Numerous members of the networking group expressed the sentiment that whatever number is reported, putting a 1 in front of that amount is a more accurate representation of the actual percentage of unemployed persons.

In Minnesota, the listed unemployment rate is approximately 5.8 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, information from the bureau points to the possibility that the reported unemployment rate might not be completely accurate.

This excerpt comes directly from the bureau’s website:

“Some people think that to get these figures on unemployment, the Government uses the number of persons filing claims for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits under State or Federal Government programs. But some people are still jobless when their benefits run out, and many more are not eligible at all or delay or never apply for benefits. So, quite clearly, UI information cannot be used as a source for complete information on the number of unemployed.”

The site goes onto state that the number of unemployed is calculated via a random monthly survey of 60,000 households nationwide.

Noted in the information from the bureaus is, “A sample is not a total count, and the survey may not produce the same results that would be obtained from interviewing the entire population. But the chances are 90 out of 100 that the monthly estimate of unemployment from the sample is within about 290,000 of the figure obtainable from a total census.”

No longer being counted

Kevin Murphy, 48, a Chisago City resident, has been unemployed for about three years.

He spent nearly two decades with Supervalu’s store planning design group before being laid off.

He has skills in information technology and a myriad of other areas, but he, like Gerdes and numerous others, is still struggling to find work.

He ran out of unemployment after 86 weeks and has been living off savings.

Murphy and Gerdes said they are no longer counted by the state as unemployed because they’re not receiving state compensation for being out of work.

Essentially, workers like them are considered “no longer looking for work” according to Gerdes.

“For those of us who have fallen off the end of (unemployment compensation) the new statistic is that we’re not even looking anymore,” Murphy said at the meeting. “That’s a bunch of crap.”

Possible age discrimination 

Nearly all of the unemployed workers at the WorkForce Center were over the age of 40.

They mentioned age likely being one factor as to why they’re not snagging available jobs.

Murphy noted most workers usually only spend 5 to 7 years at a job, and someone like him, near the age of 50, still has a good 15 years left to work.

“I’ve still got at least two jobs left in me,” he said.

For Gerdes, the job hunt has become a quagmire of sorts, and she’s hoping there will be light at the end of the tunnel soon.

“I think what we want most is for the public to know we haven’t stopped looking for work,” she said.

She added, “I don’t know what the answer is. You get into these kinds of doldrums where you feel that you’ll never work again.”

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