A year(s) long struggle to find work

This month marks two years since the recession officially began. And while we are told repeatedly a recovery is underway, it won’t really feel like it until more people are back to work. In Minnesota we may need to wait another year.

While the latest state data may see a few bright spots, we’re struck by the overwhelming number of sources in MPR’s Public Insight Network spending another Christmas unemployed.

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My colleague Molly Bloom checked in recently with Minnesotans who’d told us in the past year they were unemployed, just to see how things were going. Happily, a couple found work.

Most, though, were still dealing with the frustrations of a job search: job applications, waiting for call backs, having to re-tell their jobless stories during the holidays.

“After nearly two years of no responses, it’s hard to generate much enthusiasm for the job search,” said Keith Nelson, one of several graphic artists we’ve been tracking who’s struggling to find work. “There are more listings in my field, but this is only up from three per month to about five per month.”

Click on the map below to see what others in the Network told us. You can add your voice here. Or contact me directly.

While the newest state data shows some optimism, it may be, well, temporary.

Professional and business services gained the most jobs during November, adding 5,500 positions, the state said. But more than half of those gains were in temporary help categories.

“Basically it’s a buyer’s market right now, and the job search makes me feel like damaged goods,” said Dale Petrie, a St. Paul accountant who’s been unemployed for nearly the entire year. “I have a lot of specialized skills and experience to offer to employers,” he said. “However, I’m finding it harder than ever to land a job, or even an interview in this market, and every lead ends up being a dead end.

He thinks the fact that he’s held “too many jobs” in his career may be hurting him.

I have to go where the work is, and companies sometimes have to cut back or in the case of my last employer, even cease to exist. I can honestly say that there are jobs I would have stayed with for 20 or 30 years, I’m not a disloyal person, but in this market, any one little thing that can make it easier for an employer to decide will hurt you.

Even having absolutely everything an employer asks for is no guarantee you’ll get a call these days, there could be 10 others who also all meet every one of these qualifications, but who don’t have the number of jobs in their history that I do.

Engineers continue to struggle. Jay Johnson of Chanhassen told us he left the engineering field a few years ago and found it difficult to re-enter in his mid-50s. Since then, he’s done non-profit work, including some overseas.

Keeping health insurance has been one of his biggest challenges.

I applied for a individual policy but was turned down because of my overseas travels and my wife for pre-existing conditions. I am now applying for the Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association (MCHA) health plan. A $10,000 per person deductible policy will cost us almost $500 per month.

Johnson says he has enough funds so that he can work on non-profit ventures until he turns 60. Then he’ll start receiving his Army Reserve retirement, which includes health insurance.

Despite being unemployed, he’s taken a longer view about jobs and his place in the economy.

“I have decided not to look for work so that other people in greater need (people with a mortgage, kids in school, car payments, etc) will have a better chance at working. I am one of the unemployed who is not counted.”

Statistically,” he added, “I probably do not exist.”

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