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Benefits Begin To Run Out
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It’s been many years since Connecticut has seen the kind of unemployment levels it’s now experiencing. And something else that’s unusual about this recession is the length of time many people are spending on the unemployment rolls.

WNPR’s Harriet Jones looks at the toll that’s taking on the jobless, and on the state itself.

 

The Connecticut Works job center in Hartford is a busy place these days, as clients line up to use the computers, hoping for a lead.

I come here to check on my email, my job alerts, give me a little bit more of a lead of where to go. I also go on foot too, so I come here and see what my job alert’s got available, and then I go out to these places.

Evelyn Bogis has been looking for a job for a year now, ever since she was laid off from Nixon Industries in Plainville. There she packed exhaust pipes – now she’d like to change direction and find something in the restaurant business.

It’s what you make of it - it’s not easy. But, you know, if I keep going at it every day, don’t give myself no time off, something’ll happen, something’ll happen. 

But looming on the horizon is another financial worry – she’s within a few weeks of losing her unemployment insurance payments.  She says she understands they can’t go on forever. 

They can do only so much, they’ve got a lot of people.  It’s like a lot of people is unemployed. I’m just grateful I’m getting something, than not getting nothing at all. 

Evelyn’s situation is becoming all too common. Altogether most people can claim 72 weeks of benefits between state and federal programs. But Nancy Steffens from the state Department of Labor says even with more than a year’s worth of help available, it’s often not enough. 

We have had people that have run out of the extended benefits. In fact they started running out a little bit over a month ago.  That was what we would call our first group of people that came to the end of what they were entitled to.

Ironically, the state just misses out on extra federal help that would extend people’s unemployment payments by another seven weeks – that program is available to states with an average unemployment rate of 8 percent or more. Connecticut has averaged 7.9% for the last three months. Nancy Steffens says that leaves her in the odd position of wishing for the unemployment rate to go up.

We just missed it, so there were a lot of disappointed people, including us – we would have liked to have been able to provide those federal benefits. But unfortunately looking ahead at next month, in order to hit that 8% as an average, I think we’d have to go up to like 8.2 or 8.3% – I’m not so sure that’s going to happen, but never say never - it is a possibility.

Connecticut is currently issuing more than 140,000 unemployment checks each week. With the average benefit being just over $300, that’s more than $45m per week. The obvious priority is to find more and better ways to get people back to work.  The Department of Labor’s Deb Beaudoin.

Since the economic turndown, we had started to look at how we could go to companies before they even lay off, so if we know that a company’s going to be laying workers off, we’ve tried to actually facilitate having our staff go out and preemptively work on their resumes, work on their jobs search, and also search our database to see if there’s another employer who may be hiring with the same skill set. 

That effort has now sparked funding from a non-profit to set up what’s dubbed the Rapid Reemployment Initiative – its central feature is a website that aims to publicly post information about impending layoffs so that other employers may be able to pick up workers with particular skills more quickly. The website couples that service with a national job fair calendar, and a database where jobseekers can post resumes. Beaudoin says Connecticut and New Jersey are the two states piloting what may become a national initiative.

Obviously it’s a work in motion right now – we’re doing things differently than we have before, and some employers can be a little nervous.  When they’re going to downsize they don’t necessarily want it to be public information. We’re going to try to start working with companies to see if we can have them enter that information in at least to test it out and try it.

Most economists concur that there won’t be any significant increase in jobs in the state until late this year, or early 2010, and although there’s been a slowdown recently in the number of job losses, Connecticut’s burgeoning unemployment rolls look to be a lasting legacy of this recession.