An antidote for unemployment

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November 9, 2009 // UPDATED 9:06 am - November 9, 2009
By: Amanda Kushner
Amanda Kushner
// Upcoming discussion on ‘jobless pandemic’ will offer tips on navigating the dismal job market //

Cierra Adams knows how frustrating life can be when you’re out of work.

She’s hoping her path out of unemployment might inspire others who are among the jobless in the Twin Cities.

Adams will share her story as a panelist at “The Jobless Pandemic: Prescription for a Cure,” where she will outline how a wage subsidy program, through the Employment Action Center (EAC), linked her with her employer, Northpoint Health and Wellness Center.

Adams, of Phillips, was connected to EAC through Project for Pride and Living (PPL), one of the four organizations sponsoring the Nov. 12 discussion at the Zurah Shrine Event Center just south of Downtown.

Part of the discussion will focus on resurrecting a Minnesota program from the 1980s — Minnesota Emergency Employment Development, later called Minnesota Employment and Economic Development (MEED).

Minnesota job seekers outnumber job vacancies by as high as 24 to 1 in east central Minnesota while in the Twin Cities metro area there are 7 to 1 openings for each job. But these numbers may appear too high and too low because some people searching in east central Minnesota want jobs in the Twin Cities, said Kevin Ristau, education director with JOBS NOW Coalition, a
St. Paul-based nonprofit that advances its mission for workers to have the opportunity to earn a family-supporting wage through advocacy, research and education. The employment to job ratio probably won’t begin to improve until 2012.

“This is not an ordinary blip in the business cycle. It is not just going to snap back on its own. That we will go through not just months but years of very weak job growth and that the only way to cover that is the government needs to intervene directly in the labor market,” Ristau said.

The idea for the event began when PPL, 1035 East Franklin Avenue, was considering the focus for its fall forum and picked unemployment because many of the people they work with have relatively low skills or limited work histories. It’s a group that’s hard to employ because competition is so great, said PPL Executive Director Steve Cramer.

Deborah Schlick, Affirmative Options Coalition executive director, said it’s helpful to bring in someone who has looked at this from the point of view of some research and can stand back and ask important skeptical questions.

Andriana Abariotes, executive director of LISC, an organization that works to create opportunity and prosperity for both people and places, hopes that people will meet potential partners at the Jobless Pandemic and learn information from a broader perspective to help people wrestle with the issues.

“We are interested in building a broader coalition and building partners to achieve that,” she said.

A lagging indicator

Minnesota’s September unemployment rate is 7.3 percent seasonally adjusted, which is down .7 percent from August, according to the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Fifty-five percent of all of the state’s job vacancies are in the Twin Cities seven-county area, according to DEED’s Minnesota Job Vacancy Survey. The survey is a random sample of firms across the state, and it is conducted twice a year, said Oriane Casale, assistant director of the Labor Market Information Office. The discrepancy between the number of employed and the number of vacancies, which is about 8 to 1 for the state, is the greatest since the survey started in 2000, Casale said. In the Twin Cities area Casale wasn’t surprised by where job vacancies were down. For example, construction vacancies were down by almost half, she said.

Senior Economist Timothy J. Bartik, of the Upjohn Institute, a nonpartisan not-for profit that conducts unemployment research in Michigan, said that there is a lot of talk of an economic recovery, and many experts expect the gross domestic product to begin to improve for the third and fourth quarters of 2009. But even as the economy begins to recover, the average person won’t feel the recovery because people will still have difficulty finding jobs.

“Based on the experience of the last two recoveries in particular, job growth has always lagged GDP growth when you are in a recovery,” Bartik said. “Essentially for at least two and a half years after the GDP reached bottom and GDP began recovering, the employment to population ratio in the U.S. basically didn’t move.”

This is what most people predict will occur in the current recovery, he said. While the economic stimulus may add 2.5 million jobs by the end of 2010, according to the Council of Economic Advisors, that is still about 8–9 million jobs less than in December 2007.

A model for the nation

In Bartik’s 2001 book, “Jobs for the Poor: Can Labor Demand Policies Help?” he suggests that MEED could be used on a national level. From 1983 to 1989, MEED provided six-month wage subsidies, which are distributed by a local workforce agency, to hire the unemployed for new positions at private and public employers, Bartik said. The program was phased out originally because the unemployment rate improved, Ristau said.

MEED targets the disadvantaged and Bartik’s proposal would provide subsides for salary and health insurance of $10 an hour. National MEED is estimated to create 800,000 jobs in 2010 and 1.2 million in 2011, and the net costs per job created are $20,000 in 2010 and $21,000 in 2011.

“We have a very serious jobs problem in this country including in Minnesota, and we need to aggressively address it. And we need to address it with a variety of approaches, and here Minnesota has had something, did something in the past that was an innovative approach. And I think at the very least it deserves to be retried,” Bartik said.

The program did pass through the Minnesota House Higher Education and Workforce Development Policy And Finance Division Committee in the spring, but with budget constraints it was difficult to get attention, Ristau said. A group is working to get a national emergency grant to run a pilot project in Hennepin County. The pilot would take about $5–$10 million dollars, said Kris Jacobs, executive director of JOBS NOW Coalition. Other advocacy efforts include working with the economic policy institute in Washington and hopefully with the congressional office, Jacobs said.

Bartik said MEED is one of many options, and that one program won’t solve the problem — many solutions of a wide diversity are needed.

A website for the unemployed by the unemployed

It’s a one-stop shop for the unemployed that is created by the unemployed.

When Peggy Byrne, of St. Paul, was laid off from 180 Degrees in April, where she was a human resource manager, she would spend hours upon hours on the Internet searching for jobs and resources. She said it was mind-boggling how complicated some sites were.

“There has got to be a better way to do this,” she said.

So through clipping newspapers and surfing the Internet, Byrne has compiled to help those in similar situations search for resources.

“It just seemed to make better sense than requiring people who most need the information and resources to have to go on a scavenger hunt to find them,” she said.

Links posted must be simple, and she won’t post sites where a person needs to register to access them, she said. Also time-sensitive items will only be mentioned in sidebars.

Byrne, author of the site, picked up a nonprofit she had set up in the late ’90s, Community Building, Inc., and the site is supported by JOBS NOW Coalition. Byrne worked for more than 20 years in state government working on policy and program development. She credits this experience with helping her craft and implement an idea. Also Goodwill/Easter Seals assisted in sponsoring the website through a five-week internship.

Five On Four Web Design has volunteered its time to design the site and Byrne provides content.

Byrne is turning the site into her job. She hopes to incorporate advertising to fund and recently added Paypal to the site. She’s also applied for grants, and talked to state government to try and get funding. She said not only does the site give her something to do, but it’s a reason to live.

“I can’t think of anything I rather do for the rest of my working life than work for the unemployed,” she said.  

In addition to adding advertising, Byrne plans to expand to include even more state resources.

Since the website began on Sept. 17, has had about 3,500 visitors and 23,000 page views, according to Five On Four. The bargains and job search are some of the most popular categories.

City steps in to help

The city of Minneapolis is working to find jobs for the unemployed. Since 2004, 10,000 Minneapolis residents have found jobs through training and placement programs.

Also in the first six months of the year, 37,000 unemployed people were assisted through Minneapolis Work Force Centers. Also Minneapolis Promise placed privately funded career centers in every public school in Minneapolis. The program helped create a summer jobs program, which has placed 7,000 young adults with different businesses in town. The Green Jobs Initiative is also providing job training.

The Great Streets program is providing support for the small businesses through loans for small business development projects and façade improvement grants.

In addition, in the mayor’s proposed budget Rybak proposed doubling the funding for adult job training and placement programs from $511,000 to $1.2 million in 2010, said city spokesman Jeremy Hanson.

Through the Minneapolis Employment and Training Program, the city helps people find jobs and helps employers meet their needs for qualified workers, said Director Deb Bahr-Helgen. The city uses a neighborhood-based approach and contracts with nonprofit agencies to help individuals find work, she said.

Bahr-Helgen said those searching should go to workforce centers, the one-stop shop to access resources.

The Dislocated Worker Program aids people who lose their jobs through closing, lay-offs and reorganizations, and the program has four providers. Last year it served 704 people. Also, low-income residents can use the Adult Program, a job placement program for low-income residents that uses 11 providers.

“It’s really a neighborhood-based delivery system, and people can go and access services instead of at a government office right in their neighborhood where they live,” she said.

These programs use state, federal and local funding, and the city has also received $3.2 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Bahr-Helgen said. The ARRA funds aid the Youth Program helping about 500 youth ages 14-24 find work with an emphasis in summer employment. Also the Adult Program received about $592,000 to train and employ 240 residents. The dislocated worker program received about $963,000 to train over 150 people.

With the economy the way it is there’s a large increase in the demand for services and the workforce centers have increased the number of workshops hosted.