Slow growth leaves many competing for few jobs

Columbus Dispatch - June 21, 2012

Catherine Candisky

It took 513 “nos” before Monica Hooper got a “yes.”

Finally, this week, the 39-year-old single mother of two was offered a temporary job with an import-export company. If all goes well, it could lead to permanent employment.

“I can’t believe it,” said Hooper, of Columbus. “It’s such a relief.”

Hooper lost her job in the finance office of a local technical college in October 2010. Since then, she had applied for 513 positions — nearly one every day — and had only a handful of interviews and no offers. “I have 89 applications with the state of Ohio, and I’ve only been called in once for a civil-service test,” she said.

Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.3 percent last month, the lowest it’s been since October 2008. But for the estimated 426,000 Ohioans still trying to land a job, the hunt is grueling.

“Every job I’ve applied for, it’s the same thing — thanks for the application but 285 people have filled out the same application,” Hooper said. “I’ve applied at Kroger, clothing stores, and they tell me I’m too qualified. I tell them I need a job and I don’t care if it’s $10 an hour. I get zero an hour now.”

Hooper’s plight went from bad to worse last month when she received her final unemployment check, exhausting 73 weeks of extended jobless benefits financed by Congress to help workers weather the recession.

Since then, her only income is $266 in child support every two weeks from the father of her teenage sons. Her mother, a retired nursing-home supervisor, is helping to pay her rent, utilities and car insurance, and for the first time in her life, Hooper is on public assistance.

She gets about $200 a month in food stamps, and the boys are receiving health coverage through the state Medicaid program. Hooper is uninsured.

“I always knew I was the working poor. Now I’m just poor,” Hooper quipped. “I have to make myself laugh because I’ve spent too much time crying about it.”

But her voice crackled with emotion when she talked about how her mother has insisted on helping her stay in her home. “She doesn’t want me to lose everything,” Hooper said.

While Ohio is showing some positive signs, the economic recovery is still “painfully slow,” according to a report recently released by Policy Matters Ohio.

The report noted that since the end of the recession in June 2009, the state has had job growth of just 2.1 percent with the addition of 108,100 jobs. Since May 2011, the state job total has grown by nearly 76,000, or 1.5 percent.

“At the rate of growth Ohio has experienced over the past 12 months, it will still take nearly 3 1/2 years to generate the additional 261,500 jobs needed to return Ohio to pre-2007 recession levels of employment,” the report found.

Meanwhile, nearly 28,000 long-term unemployed Ohioans such as Hooper have exhausted jobless benefits this year as the federal government phases out an emergency extended-benefits program. Across the nation, more than 1 million workers have exhausted benefits in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

In April, the maximum unemployment benefits dropped to 73 weeks, down from 99. In September, it will drop to 63 weeks, and by Dec. 31 all federal extensions will be phased out. At that point, Ohioans can collect up to 26 weeks of traditional state benefits.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, said many people have been out of work for so long that they have stopped looking. And those who have found jobs are often underemployed and underpaid, she said.

“They say it’s getting better, but where? I’m not seeing it,” Hamler-Fugitt said. To underscore her point, she referred to a recent government report showing that nearly

1 in 5 households receiving food stamps report no other gross income, and another

20 percent have no net income.

“This wasn’t the plan,” Hooper said of her employment hiatus. “My plan was to be working, be established, be a homeowner and have the typical family with 21/2 kids and a car. I’ve got some of that, but I’m not where I thought I’d be financially, robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Slow growth leaves many competing for few jobs

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