Back to work. Still worried

The recession’s bottoming out. Some unemployed Minnesotans are starting to find work again, which is great. But what will the workplace look like when they return? It may be very different from when they were cut.

I was reminded of that today after a couple of good news emails arrived from citizens in MPR’s Public Insight Network who were unemployed but are working again. They’re happy to be back but still worried the economy will turn on them again.

Val Littfin, 52, of Grand Marais was stuck in a kind of unemployment limbo when we talked to her in April, caught in a two-week shutdown at a northeast Minnesota lumber mill, waiting for a callback. Employees were told when the mill restarted it would be at only two-thirds capacity.

Littfin told us today she was back as a full-time employee as of July 27. She’s still holding her breath about the future. She writes:

It is a relief to have that (job) in place even though I know it probably won’t last even five more years. Who knows if it will last even 12 months. The Mill has beat the odds in the past and I hope it does it again but …. The logs still trickle in but the stockpile is much smaller than when I started working there two years ago.

For now I’m content. I’m fully aware that there is another layoff in my future but I’m taking it day by day, happy to be working with a great group of people.

All of the laid off employees have been called back, she adds, but since the layoff, the company has lost three highly skilled employees to other companies.

One network source from Edina had been a coordinator for programs focused on senior citizens. She told us in June she was unemployed and described her job prospects as “not good.” She wrote:

Degree in Social Gerontology. Many years of work experience but looked for 10 months for a job (May 2008-Feb 2009 before landing a temp job which lasted April and May. Dread another long job search…..

No job= no health insurance and this is gravest concern because if I get sick it could wipe out savings which is what I’m living on until I find work…. COBRA from last perm job was $728 month…now how do you pay for that without an income???? Because I quit a job due to health concerns I don’t get unemployment.

We checked in with her this week thinking she’d be a candidate for some interviews my MPR colleague Bob Collins has started on the unemployed. Turns out she found a job, but the future remains unwritten. She says:

I recently was hired into a 5 month temp position – no health care benefits, but a paycheck and it didn’t take 10 months like the last time last year. So a two month temp job and now 5 month temp. I’m therefore not unemployed but not optimistic for my prospects when this ends either as it will be late December.

I now work in a food shelf where there is ever growing need. Those of us without health care really need some hope. Health care should not be tied to employment.

Minnesota’s July unemployment data is due Thursday. With any luck the numbers will again stop short of 9 percent. But those better numbers may still mask the concerns of people like Littfin, no longer in the ranks of the jobless but uncertain about the future.

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Check out the map below to read what people in our Network are telling us about the job climate around them. Then share your story.

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