MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

August 12, 2012

Long-term unemployment takes a toll on everyone

Muskogee County jobless rate 12th in state at 6.4 percent

— Muskogee’s David Scott has been unemployed for longer than 12 months three times in the last dozen years. His latest stint has lasted 14 months.

Scott is one of many in the same predicament in Muskogee County, Eastern Workforce Investment Board Executive Director Nanette Robertson said.

Muskogee County’s unemployment rate rose in June to 6.4 percent, which equals 2,050 people, according to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. That is lower than the national average of 8.2 percent, but higher than the state average of 4.7. The rate is the 12th highest of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. It is down from 7.6 percent last June.

It’s likely those numbers won’t see a significant drop soon. More than half of the unemployed in the area have been without jobs for more than six months, Robertson said.

Long-term unemployed have a harder time finding jobs, Robertson said.

“The long-term unemployed get discouraged,” Robertson said. “They can get depressed. There is a sense of accomplishment and pride that comes with a job.”

Scott, twice a victim of downsizing, keeps a positive attitude, even though he said his unemployment ran out one year ago. He has extensive background in mechanical engineering, electronics, purchasing, inventory and warehousing.

“At age 59, it is very difficult,” Scott said. “I shaved off my goatee because it was gray. I’ve got an exceedingly deep background in a variety of areas, and I’m either overqualified or too old. Most things advertised in the area are entry level, and I would not even be considered for it because of my experience.”

Connie Sharp, programs operation manager at EWIB, said a high unemployment rate can have undesirable results on an area.

“The crime rate increases, and it impacts the economy of the community because there’s not as much disposable income,” Sharp said. “With more people out of work, it affects the housing market and decreases property value.”

Lee Ann Langston, project director of Eastern Oklahoma Workforce Investment Act and a Muskogee city councilor, said there is a stigma against hiring the unemployed.

“There is a definite prejudice against the unemployed,” Langston said. “A lot of employers won’t even consider them. They see it as a red flag, unfortunately.”

Langston said some employers will even say in their job listing “unemployed need not apply.”

“We encourage people to take a job, even if it’s just temporary, to keep from having that history gap,” Langston said. “Most people really take pride in working.”

Robertson said it seems that group “is just stuck.”

Scott agreed. He said some programs only help the unemployed in certain situations — like if the company they worked for shut down.

“There are so many of us who fall down in the middle,” Scott said. “None of these opportunities exist.”

Scott last worked at the VA call center. He said he applied there 11 times before he was hired in August 2010. But he left that job in April 2011 to care for his father, a two-time Naval serviceman, who died in May 2011.

“Since that time, I’ve tried various areas,” Scott said. “Certainly, I can move to Houston. Certainly I can move to Oklahoma City. I’ve been searching locations like Bartlesville and Cushing. All of those would involve moving, and there’s no moving expenses available in general. And I am still caring for my elderly mother, so she can remain in the family home.”

Scott said some job openings require training in specialized programs. While he has taken courses at Connors State College and Indian Capital Technology Center to get training, some program training is not available in the area.

“I could get a job today, if I had training in an accounting program called SAP,” Scott said. “But it’s kind of a chicken or the egg — you can’t get the job to get the experience. I can’t find training for that program in the area. I looked into an online course, and one course costs $9,000, with no financial assistance.”

That’s where programs such as EWIB’s On-The-Job Training Program could help. The program, which gets its funding from a grant through the U.S. Department of Commerce, reimburses up to 50 percent of the company’s cost while the employee is learning their job. EWIB officials plan to expand the program in the coming months. However, only those who have been unemployed for more than 20 weeks and are eligible for unemployment insurance can qualify.

Which leaves Scott out. He said jobs that are available don’t pay well.

“Outside of a $30,000 a year job — if you can get one — there’s no way to make a living that I would say is a ‘savings wage’ — by which I mean where you can put money back,” Scott said.

Scott said the situation is frustrating.

“Ninety-eight percent of the jobs I applied for, I never get a response,” Scott said. “The ball’s in the employers’ court, period.”

Reach Mike Carrels at (918) 684-2922 or mcarrels

@muskogeephoenix.com.

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