Jobless benefits diminish locally



Article Published: Oct. 29, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011

Although local and regional unemployment rates are declining, the number of people who are exhausting their unemployment benefits is accelerating.

According to the High Country Workforce Development Board, 33 unemployed Watauga workers are scheduled to lose their benefits in the next 60 days.

They will join the ranks of the 11 who lost their benefits in the previous 60 days.

"There certainly are a number of people who keep hitting the point of not getting benefits," said workforce development direct Carol Coates, who oversees a seven-county area that includes Watauga.

"They can still participate in training activities to develop new skills. The difficulty is people still need the income to pay their living expenses while they get training."

Unemployment benefits typically expire after a year, though the federal government extended benefits for an additional six months.

A legislative proposal to extend benefits an additional 13 weeks is currently stalled.

Coates said there are workers who either were ineligible or used up their benefits and are facing tough times.

However, they can still get training and be ready to move into new fields as the economy recovers.

Coates said the board can, through the Workforce Investment Act, supply education funding and possibly some support resources when it's appropriate for job-seekers to get additional skills to make them more employable in the current economic environment.

"They can also get resume assistance and speaking skills if that has been problem in getting employment."

Unemployment is declining in the region, with all seven regional counties seeing September unemployment rates either dropping or staying the same.

However, it may take a while for new jobs to be added, and Coates said some people have welcomed the opportunity to pursue education and training.

"Workforce development professionals across the region are concerned about the families who have already lost their benefits and the families who will lose their benefits around the holidays," Coates said.

"But these numbers tell only part of the story. An estimated 250,000 unemployed people in North Carolina are not even eligible for UI benefits and have no safety net at all."

In early November, the Division of Workforce Development will roll out a statewide initiative to connect North Carolina families with a variety of resources, including foreclosure help, discounted food, free prescription medication and assistance with preparing resumes and completing applications for financial aid.

Community colleges have rolled out their JobsNOW 12 in 6 programs for intensive training in high-growth career fields. Coates said some programs could be completed in as little as six months while others could take up to two years.

"People who have lost their benefits are feeling more desperate but also more appreciative of the training," Coates said. "Based on past experience, those who thought being laid off was the worst thing that could have happened, who have reviewed their interests and skills and then pursued training, have said it was one of the best things in their life. We feel positive because we know people have had that response when they are able to get through the training and enter a field they love."

Those wanting to start their own businesses also have local resources. The Rural Center offers Project GATE, Appalachian State University offers a Start Your Own Business workshop series beginning in Wilkes County on Oct. 27, and local community colleges offer a number of workshops for potential entrepreneurs. All of the programs are free, Coates said.

While Workforce Investment Act supplemental funds will expire in June 2010, Coates said the training programs for workers are ongoing.

The Employment Security Commission is offering weekly employability classes at the JobLink Career Centers. In addition, a group of unemployed professionals has begun meeting every other Tuesday at the Watauga County JobLink Career Center to share job leads, provide resume and interview critiques, and offer support.

For more information about any of these resources, visit http://www.RecoveryInTheHighCountry.com or call Watauga's JobLink Career Center at (828) 265-5385.

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