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Long-term jobless face tough path to find work

Slow recovery means thousands left unemployed for long periods, stats show.

Most workers laid off recently in Clark and Champaign counties are able to find new jobs relatively soon, according to workforce development officials in both counties.

But for those who cannot find work quickly, their challenges mount the longer they look. Statewide, statistics point to an economy in which a slow recovery has meant long stretches of unemployment for thousands of Ohioans. For workers, long-term unemployment can mean diminishing job skills, depleted savings and higher debt, among other issues.

A report issued in September from Policy Matters Ohio shows 36 percent of Ohio’s unemployed had been looking for work for more than six months at the end of last year, one of the worst stretches in decades. Before the recent recession, 1983 was the only year when the share of long-term unemployment in Ohio was that high, said Zach Schiller, a research director for Policy Matters Ohio.

“I think there’s no question that it’s a serious problem, and it’s a serious national problem,” Schiller said.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services does not track long-term unemployment figures. However, in general, local workers who lose their jobs now are having an easier time finding work, said Eric Welty, workforce supervisor for Champaign and Logan County Job and Family Services.

Welty said the agency encourages clients who are unemployed to stay active, networking or volunteering, in order to keep their skills fresh. The agency also offers a variety of programs to help residents update their skills, improve their resumes and get back into the workforce. Welty said many employers are more cautious to hire workers who have long gaps between jobs, especially if they can’t show how they’ve updated their skills over a period of several months.

Information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows, overall, about 3.7 percent of Ohio’s workforce was unemployed for more than 15 weeks from the third quarter of 2012 to the second quarter of 2013.

Most workers in Clark County are finding work more quickly than during the worst of the recession, said Lehan Peters, deputy director of WorkPlus of Clark County, which provides training and other resources for local employees.

But the longer a person is unemployed, the harder it can be to get back into the workforce, she said. As weeks roll past, she said employers sometimes begin to question why a worker remained unemployed. She said there are good reasons why workers may not be able to return to the job market right away, but they often need to be able to demonstrate to employers they have been improving their skills during that time.

“Employers start to question why it is taking so long to get a job,” Peters said.

She said her agency tries to find what barriers are keeping workers from finding a job and helps them close that gap. Some workers, for example, may have unique skills from a job they’ve held for years, but that might not match what employers are looking for.

“I think everybody’s employable, but we just have to work a little harder,” Peters said.

Springfield resident Gary Martindale was laid off twice since the recession began, despite earning a degree in drafting and design. Martindale is working again but said there’s belief among many workers that they’re on their own once they lose a job.

“People think you’re supposed to take care of it yourself, and you can’t do it on your own,” Martindale said.

Martindale pointed to programs like Rise Above at WorkPlus of Clark County that helped him tweak his resume and network to find a new position. But he said many people aren’t aware of the programs that are available. And for some who have been in the same job for decades, he said some workers aren’t sure what skills employers are looking for.

“If you’ve been in the same job 20 or 30 years, that whole job search process has changed so drastically,” Martindale said.

Carlotta Murphy, also of Springfield, had worked for 26 years as a contractor at Wittenberg University, helping clean, prepare and tear down rooms before special events. But her employer lost a bid on a contract and she found herself without a job for close to 10 months.

“Because of my age, I thought, ‘Who’s going to hire me?’ ” Murphy said.

Murphy said she attended several job interviews during that time, but many offered low pay or seemed like a poor match. Murphy eventually found a better job, and she credited assistance she received through local employment programs. But like Martindale, she said workers need to be proactive and be willing to seek help if necessary.

The large number of Ohioans who are unemployed for long stretches has made this recovery different from many of those that came before, Schiller said. The figures are an indication that there is a need for more training programs to help workers attain new skills to get back into the workforce, he said.

Along with long-term unemployment rates statewide , Schiller said unemployment is still high overall, and there are many workers who are working only part-time but are looking for full-time jobs.

“All of these things I think are different aspects of the same problem, which is the labot market is in bad shape,” Schiller said.

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