Tuesday, November 10, 2009

As The Economy Recovers, Unemployment Still Plaguehttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifs The East End

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East End - The recession may be over, however with national unemployment figures rising above 10 percent it has become increasingly clear that the economic recovery will be a jobless one. While the East End of Long Island has not been hit as hard as other parts of New York, the job market seems stagnant to many, especially those out of work and desperately searching for a salary.

Suffolk County Unemployment Rate from 2005 to 2009: Though two to three percentage points higher, 2009 is following a similar trend to years past.

Out of 62 counties in New York State, ranked in order from the lowest unemployment percentage to the highest, Suffolk County ties for 19 with Livingston County at 7.5 percent (Hamilton County was first with 5.6 percent and Bronx County was last with 13.3 percent). Of the 10 regions of New York State, Long Island was second with 7.4 percent of the workforce unemployed (The Capital region was first with 7.2 percent and the New York City region was 10th with 10.2 percent).

Month-to-month, the unemployment trends on the South Fork held stable through the summer in the high six-percent range, coming down from a high of 9.4 percent in February 2009. The unemployment rate, while high compared to years past, remained at 6.5 percent through September, however the figures are not seasonally adjusted, according to Gary Huth, the principle economist for the New York State Department of Labor and regional market analyst for Long Island, which leads to large swings through the seasons. "The rates tend to peak in the January-February period," Huth explained, "That's true for everyone, but it's more true on the East End," which relies heavily on summer tourism and fair-weather industries.

So far, the seasonal fluctuations in the 2009 unemployment numbers aren't much different than in years past. "If you go back to 2007, it's more or less in line with that," Huth said, though joblessness "didn't dip quite as much this summer," as analysts would have expected the unemployment rate to drop into the lower six-percent range (unemployment on the South Fork dropped to a low of 6.4 percent in August). "It was a pretty hard summer for the East End, with the combination of bad weather and the economy was particularly soft." Huth said.

While the number of persons filing new unemployment claims is dropping off, an unsatisfactory number of those on unemployment are not finding worthwhile jobs.

Despite the sluggish economy and cool temperatures this summer, "Some parts of the tourism industry have held up better than you'd expect," according to Huth, "While business has been hurt, it hasn't hurt as much as manufacturing and construction." While Nassau County is a "more mature economy, Suffolk tends to have more dominance in industries that depend more on the economy," such as tourism and construction, though overall, "I think as high as our housing prices were, we did not have the over-build out that southern California and Arizona had," Huth said, hopeful that the muted bust will lead to a quicker recovery.

The number of unemployed persons in Southampton rose to over 2,000 in September, almost double the number from 2008, however, "The number of people filing new claims [for unemployment insurance] is falling off," according to Huth, "But you still aren't seeing a lot of people on the other end leaving the system with a good job. Things aren't getting worse, but we don't see a lot of people getting off unemployment insurance."

The U.S. Congress passed legislation last week to extend unemployment benefits for the fourth time, stretching the allowance to 99 weeks - much needed good news for those who are still struggling to find a job in a jobless marketplace.

Congress recently passed a fourth extension on unemployment insurance, increasing assistance from 26 weeks to 99 weeks.

One such person is Dina Vigorito, a graphic designer living in Shinnecock Hills who has been searching for employment since being laid off in February. "It's been tough with just one person working," Vigorito said, a mother of one whose husband is now the sole provider, "We're just making it." Vigorito has a wealth of job experience, working with advertising companies and magazines, however finding a full-time job that will pay enough to cover child care or part-time work with hours built around the school day has been tough, if not impossible, and Vigorito's lack of training in web design has restricted her options.

"As people are unemployed, one of the things they look at is going back to school," Huth said, "People are thinking, 'If I'm not working, I should be improving my skills,'" though for those like Vigorito trying to manage on a tight schedule and an even tighter budget, further education may be out of the question.

The last time Vigorito was in the job market things were easier, she didn't have a child to consider and was free to accept a job offer anywhere. "Back then, I didn't have a baby, so I could go anywhere," she said, "but now that I have my son I'm limited, and with the jobs out here, there's not a lot of options." These days, bound to the Hamptons, employment is scarce. "I've considered answering ads that are in Hauppauge," as the drive would be long, but a decent salary could attract her, "But out here, there's very, very little, there's nothing really," she said, "Maybe the next option is to go out on your own, try to get something started."

Vigorito is considering freelancing or even starting her own firm, but at this point she just wants work. Back in May, Vigorito joined up with UntappedAbility, an employment service directed specifically at mothers looking for work. "Our focus is to assist mothers in their return to the workforce on a schedule that fits into their lives," says UntappedAbility.com, the webportal that connects job-seeking mothers with employers.

Online job services like Craig's List and UntappedAbility are giving the unemployed another source to assist with their job search.

"We started back in January, but things really took off in May," co-founder Kerry Wilkie said. As a mother herself, and co-chair of the Hampton Bays Mothers' Association, Wilkie was having trouble finding employment during the hours her children were at school. "We found a lot of mothers who were ready to go back to work full-time," she said, "and a lot of fathers who own their own businesses where, with the slow-down, the mothers had to go back to work," so along with partner Julie Lofstad, they began helping women find work.

"What we see happening," Wilkie explained, "is that some of our job-seekers that are mothers are calling us saying, 'My husband just got laid off, can you help?'" UntappedAbility has placed 40 women in jobs since May, some with salaries as high as $50,000. The job market is tough, especially "for the bread-winner in the family," Wilkie said, "but for someone looking for an additional salary, the jobs are there."

While their primary focus is on former stay-at-home moms looking to re-enter the workforce, UntappedAbility has tapped into the wider need for employment and has begun helping men find work as well.

Larry Haines, of Hampton Bays, has been out of work since being laid off in July. Haines, who worked as an office manager for an electrical contractor, was reduced from full-time to part-time last November as construction on the East End stalled, and was finally let go this summer. Haines hadn't been in the job market for over 10 years and is finding the search grueling. "It hasn't been easy, that's for sure," he said, "I've done several interviews, and you think you have a good shot, but there's a 100 people competing for the same job." An East End resident his entire life, 10 years ago, "I'd walk into a place and be hired on the spot," Haines recalled, "Now, you'll get a second interview then never hear anything. They're interviewing so many people they just can't get back to everyone."

Haines has been checking with Craig's List and the local newspapers daily, and even submitted his resume to UntappedAbility, however making ends meet with a wife (who works as a self-employed artist) and three children is "extremely hard." Unemployment insurance brings in only a quarter of what Haines was making previously and support from food stamps "keeps food on the table," but was cut from $400 a month down to $250. "And we still have to make mortgage payments, car payments, those things don't go away," he added. "On the South Fork, we were the last ones to sink and we'll probably be the last ones to dig out of it," he projected.

According to Huth, the safest job sectors are healthcare, education and information technology, as they "tend to be less cyclical."

"One of the hardest hit industries nation-wide, and especially on Long Island, was the building industry," Huth agreed, though the job market continues to be stable in one area: technology. On Long Island, "Information technology (IT) in general has become such a critical factor in all sorts of businesses," Huth said, especially in healthcare and education where job seekers with technical skills can find work modernizing records. Along with IT, advances in efficiency and conservation technologies are also stimulating the job market. "Beyond just solar panels and wind turbines, energy efficiency and conservation can make businesses more competitive by covering their costs and making new jobs," Huth said.

As for new jobs in the green energy sector itself, "I'm sure that's playing out to some degree, though we haven't seen a huge bump out there" on the East End, Huth stated, "I'm pretty positive on the outlook there, but I don't see a lot of big numbers coming down. It's more about making local businesses better, which can lead to them hiring more employees."

Those who are currently unemployed and need assistance, whether finding a job or applying for unemployment benefits, can visit Suffolk County's One-Stop Employment Center on Veterans Highway in Hauppauge or online at SuffolkCounty.ny.gov.