The good, the bad, and the ugly…
According to the Labor Department, the last week of 2010 brought about some “good” news for Michigan. The number of people applying for unemployment benefits had dropped by 34,000 applications. That still left 388,000 people, the lowest amount of people seeking unemployment insurance in Michigan since July 2008.
Economists point out that numbers below 425,000 can be seen as a modest indicator of job growth. In contrast, March 2009 peaked at 625,000 unemployment applications, signaling that the recession was raging like a wildfire across the economic landscape.
And while an 11% reduction in applicants is indeed a good thing, economists warn us that applications for unemployment need to fall below 375,000 for anyone to see any signs of a measurable decline in unemployment. Not only do those numbers need to fall below that critical 375,000 baseline, but they need to stay there for a significant period of time. Many critics argue that these latest figures merely reflect the temporary seasonal jobs that people accepted to make it through the holidays, and that these numbers mean little as many of these people will return to the ranks of the unemployed quickly.
Another criticism of these numbers has been that the government statistics report an unemployment rate of 10 – 14% in Michigan (slightly higher than the national average) that many people point out does not take into account the numbers of people whose benefits have already expired and are ineligible for further benefits. And while news stories recently point out that the government is currently taking steps to better track the statistics on this demographic of the workforce, these stats also do not account for people who never qualified for UIA benefits in the first place. Small business owners and entrepreneurs who previously had the ways and means to support themselves financially found themselves in very difficult circumstances when the recession hit full swing. When you factor in the people whose benefits expired, and the people that never qualified, your unemployment figures are actually several percentage points higher than the Labor Department states.
A glimpse of hope…
Grand Rapids has fared a little better than the rest of the state. July 2009 and March 2010 saw our unemployment spike to 12.8%. In November 2010 it had fallen to 10%. That equals about 10,000 less people than this time last year seeking unemployment benefits.
President Obama recently did his part to help out millions of Americans on unemployment by signing into law a bill that continued federal support past state maximums. In Michigan UIA gives unemployed workers 26 weeks. The federal stimulus provides workers for up to a total 99 weeks of unemployment.
In a struggling economy with diminishing job growth, fierce competition in the hunt for decent jobs, overseas competition for jobs, and the American dollar not stretching as far as we would like, 26 weeks isn’t a very long time.
above: the video I made regarding my early experiences in a year of unemployment
One worker’s experience in the job search…
When the company I worked at for 8 years laid of 50% of their work force, I immediately (within 3 hours) began searching for meaningful employment. I spent 3 to 5 hours daily responding to ads on MLive, Michworks, Monster, Craigslist and CareerBuilder. I set up a LinkedIn account, subscribed to some job search results in my email on a regular basis, and searched Google like a mad man. I even had different versions of my resume targeted towards different types of jobs.
I have a solid work history, continuously employed by major names in semi-conductor manufacturing for 13 years. My resume is heavy on Quality, Research & Development, and education/training. I am active in art, music, and even volunteer for the occasional good cause. I figured that I had a solid resume and would appear to be a well rounded and articulate candidate for most positions I could apply for.
I knew that we were in the midst of tough times, and yet I was still optimistic that I would land a decent job. I wasn’t expecting to land a job as good as the one I had just lost, but just the opportunity to land a job worth having.
I went on every single interview I could land. I didn’t care if it was far from home, like the interviews in Lansing (a solid 60 minutes of driving one way). I didn’t care if it was a job in a field I had never worked in before, like the interview for a job selling insurance. I didn’t even care if the job paid less than UIA (the unemployment benefits weekly average is about $300 nationwide), as long as it was a job that I could expect to have for awhile.
The new normal…
After 57 weeks I finally did land a job worth having. People there seem friendly, respond well to my ideas, and show me that they appreciate my efforts. It isn’t as much responsibility (or stress!) as the last job. It doesn’t pay as much either. The good news there is that I have lower bills due to a smart decision to move from the house I rented to a more affordable apartment (I also prefer the neighborhood more). I sold my car that kept breaking down on me, and now take the bus to work. Soon I will start biking all over town as the weather improves. So while I save money on car related expenses, I also get to contribute globally by living a greener lifestyle, and even get a little exercise in the process.
I know that I was lucky to have it as well as I did. My experience with unemployment was difficult at times, but nowhere near as bad as it could have been. Many people I have met have had it much worse, for much longer. I know that as I continue on my career I will always be more appreciative of the things I have, even when things get a little bit rough. In the coming months I will keep my fingers crossed for all my friends out there that are still working hard at finding a decent job. The future may not be quite as shiny and bright as we had hoped, but the new normal that we will find ourselves in will still be a brighter day than recent times. Hopefully we all come out of it having learned some valuable lessons.