All posts by Casey Quinlan

Casey Quinlan is a reporter for the New York City News Service and student at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for the Journal and Republican weekly newspaper, and contributed to The Watertown Daily Times, a daily newspaper, in upstate New York, as a community reporter. Quinlan has also covered state politics for The Legislative Gazette in Albany.

Job Training Centers Not Ready to Tackle Structural Unemployment

by Casey Quinlan

More than twelve million unemployed people now depend on local unemployment offices to help them retrain and get back to work, but these offices are often overwhelmed and ill-equipped to address the challenges the jobless face.

There is clear emphasis on low-skill work inside the 250 Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn, unemployment and training office. Jobless clients are directed to sit in a corner of the office where they wait in silence until someone comes to address their problem. They have the opportunity to read a few fliers as they wait, two of them advertising for security training and one advertising for a veterans job fair on Wall Street.

Inside the office, none of the 30 plus job seekers look distracted. The silence is rarely broken. Though a few unemployed people said they have used the job training services, many people say they have used only resume building, the work stations and consultation as they apply for work online.

Most of the unemployed men and women use the office to search for jobs online. These job seekers have internet access at home but choose the centers’ office environment, which provides encouragement and better concentration.

“I’ve got an iPhone, iPad, iPod, and laptop, but I can’t stay at home or I’ll be distracted and watch television or sleep,” said Johnny Reif, 58, of Brooklyn.

Every day, Reif comes in for two to three hours. In one day he applied to 10 jobs at Columbia University and 10 jobs at Mount Sinai in Information Technology. Reif has also taken a resume-building workshop.

The contrast between U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis’ ambitious plans to confront structural unemployment and the actual practice of local unemployment offices couldn’t be starker.

Solis said the Department of Labor is focusing on developing summer youth employment programs, revamping workforce employment and training programs and improving their ties to community colleges.

Solis said the DOL is also focusing more attention on developing skills in math and medicine. Though structural unemployment demands a more skilled workforce, many unemployed people are still looking for the work in the same low-skill field as before or a variation of low-skill jobs, instead of receiving training for skilled work.

Security, cashier, maintenance and administrative work are still popular jobs to apply for. Despite Solis’ increased education and training agenda, most job seekers said they were looking for the same job title and skill level as their previous low-skill job.

Some former security workers, such as Derrick Trotman, 60, continue to search for security work after more than a year of unemployment.

Job seekers said they received suggestions from DOL employees to rewrite their resume or train for low-skill work but no one said DOL employees recommended community college education, despite Solis’ focus on community college education. Some job seekers have been encouraged to seek training or certification for health care jobs and food service, like Chaquasai Stepheny, 20, of Fort Greene.

“I went hard into paperwork for job training, said Stepheny. Stepheny may train to become a Patient Care Assistant despite the stigma that sometimes comes with nursing home care.

“People tend to have to change diapers and some people just won’t do that,” Stepheny said. She said she is willing to accept any job that will put food on the table for her and her two year-old daughter.

“Right now I’m worrying about my daughter. We have welfare but that’s not enough when we have $132 every week for both me and my daughter,” Stepheny said.

She is also willing to get a food handler certificate, or food protection certificate, a qualification that is commonly requested in advertisements on Craig’s List. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene charges $105 for the 15 hour-long food safety course.

Though some job seekers are satisfied with their experience at the job training center in Brooklyn, Rosalyn Seabrook, 42, said DOL employees were difficult to work with when she requested help.

“People have helped me work on my resume but I’m often calling people to help and no one is available,” Seabrook said. “I’ll apply for a job and only certain people, maybe two people, know how to do it. They show it to you quickly and if you don’t get it or you struggle to do it they just leave and that’s it.”

After six months of looking for work at call centers, Seabrook has decided to move to Atlanta, Georgia, where the cost of living is cheaper.

The DOL’s 2011 Annual Performance Report identifies problems within job training and career centers and acknowledged staff may be strained to serve a large number of clients.

The report stated that one stop career centers would benefit from more resource room staffing to ensure “customers get more out of self-services.” Career centers should also make efforts to enhance the computer literacy of customers to enable customers to easily access the services without help, the DOL recommended.

“The high volume of self-service customers can sometimes strain the capacity of the system to provide quality services,” read the summary.

The Department of Labor may be strained, in part, because it needs to retrain younger workers to find the skilled work employers demand and serve older displaced workers at the same time.

Manhattan Institute Scholar Russell Sykes said Department of Labor offices fail to serve the younger population because employees tend to focus on the needs of older workers, a mentality that may hold Solis’ ambitions back.

“Another $8.3 million will flow to the Labor Department for training programs to help jobless youth ‘transition to the workplace,’” wrote Sykes in the Times Union. “But the department, with its focus on displaced adult workers, is not accustomed to dealing with the complicated problems, including substance abuse, criminal records and child care issues as well as welfare dependency often found with young people who have yet to connect with the job market.”

Here are all of the Workforce 1 and Department of Labor offices throughout the Greater New York City area:

CommunityWalk Map – Unemployment and Training Offices in New York City

Jobless Claims Likely to Remain Higher This Spring


By Casey Quinlan

After a few weeks of steady drops, jobless claims reached a two-month peak last week, signaling this week’s claims may be higher than in the past few weeks. The news of sharply rising jobless claims last week combined with a disappointing March unemployment report are indications that the jobs sector is improving at a slower pace than forecasted.

The four-week moving average for initial jobless claims was 368,000, over 4,000 claims higher than the previous week’s revised average. The previous week was revised to show 10,000 more claims were submitted than initially reported.

Though seasonal issues such as the Easter holiday may have influenced the number, the rise was nonetheless worrying to economists when it was released alongside the March jobs report, which added only 120,000 jobs.

Some economists say external shocks such as the uncertainty about rising gas prices, the possible overturning of the individual health care mandate and continued instability in Europe may be responsible for cooling down hiring.

Jesse Rothstein, associate professor of public Policy and economics at Berkeley, said he expects sharper rises in jobless claims this week, closer to the April 15 number, than the steady drops seen in February and March, but he did not predict a specific number.

“I am not too optimistic that they will fall off quickly in the next few months and I am worried that they will rise again as the economy is hit with external negative shocks and policymakers seem to have lost the will to support the recovery,” Rothstein said.

Janet Currie, professor of economics at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, is slightly more optimistic, but said she does not believe jobless claims will drop substantially in the next initial jobless claims report or in future weeks.  Currie said she expects jobless claims to drop this week but not at the same levels seen in late February and early March.

“Recovery from a deep recession tends to be slow and that will likely be true in this case as well,” Currie said.

Whether this week’s jobless claims dip only slightly below 380,000 or rise to 385,000 due to world events and rising oil prices, the four-week average remains safely below last year’s claims which held well over 400,000.  If jobless claims remain relatively stable and an April unemployment report shows healthier job growth, the recovery may regain its strength, albeit slowly.

Unemployed Are Optimistic And Willing To Lower Expectations


y Casey Quinlan

As unemployment becomes lower many unemployed people say they are optimistic that the economy will return back to normal. Though the unemployed may become more motivated to seek jobs, economic reports show that many of the New York City and New York State sectors adding jobs are lower-paying, such as food services, social assistance and nursing.

Numbers released by the New York State Department of Labor show the most job gains are expected in food services, followed by health care services, administrative work, professional and social assistance sectors. Nursing is a close seventh to social assistance and educational services trails behind.

The New York City Independent Budget Office’s report, “City Adding Jobs Despite Wall Street Weakness,” shows a similar trend in city hiring, with the exception of more jobs added in leisure and hospitality and retail trade than throughout the state. High-paying sectors like the securities industry are not faring as well.

Jesse Rothstein, professor of economics at Stanford University, said this recession is different from other recessions that have hit only low skill workers. The good news, Rothstein says, is that painful layoffs are only reflective of the recession not longer-term structural problems within the U.S. economy.

“You never know when people start seeing signs of hope,” Rothstein said.

The psychological effect of recent job numbers, however, could spur more employers to hire and generate activity among the long term unemployed.

“It probably will have an effect. There is no demand because they think no one is hiring but if we could promise that to employers they would more likely to hire because they know the demand is there,” Rothstein said.

Pennie Getman, Manager of Lewis County Employment and Training, in upstate New York, said people are becoming more successful at finding jobs, but they are adjusting their expectations and accepting modest to low-paying jobs.

Maritere Arce, a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Labor, said the Manhattan office is using research to help the unemployed understand which types of careers are no longer hotbeds for hiring.  For example, Arce said graphic design is a popular area of study but employers are not seeking many graphic designers.

Arce said she has seen a wide range of unemployed clients come into the Manhattan unemployment office, including Wall Street traders and people with doctorate degrees.

The Department of Labor’s Brooklyn unemployment office and job training center on Schermerhorn Street provides enough space for 30 or more people to search for work. The room is almost dead quiet with the exception of a few clients who call out to a supervisor for help formatting their resumes.

Lorenzo Lawrence, 41, said he has been looking for work for a year. He lost his job as a bouncer after his club was shut down. He decided to move back to his place of birth, Brooklyn, to stay with friends and eventually find work. He has not filed for unemployment yet.

Though he has not received any calls for interviews, Lawrence said he remains very hopeful that the economy will recover and said he believes he will find a job soon.

“I am extremely optimistic,” Lawrence said. “I’ve always worked. With an improving economy we have to rebuild and get refocused but I know I will find something in the next two weeks.”

Lawrence said he has been paying close attention to the unemployment rate.

Danielle Miller, 26, said she searches every day to find work in a wide range of job sectors such as security, retail stores or child care. Miller, who used to work at the Parks Department, said child care is not ideal but she is looking everywhere.

“Even though it’s a very slow recovery, it is getting back to where it used to be,” Miller said.

Jobless Claims Rise But General Trend Remains Positive

    By Casey Quinlan

Initial Jobless Claims rose this week but the general trend shows claims are consistently dropping and employers are beginning to hire again.

After four straight weeks of drops in jobless claims, the number rose to  362,000 claims. The four-week moving average, a less volatile representation of jobless claims, moved up to 355,000 claims, not far from the previous week’s figure, which reflects a consistent downward trend in claims.

Together, states with a decrease of more than 1,000 claims, declined by more than 10,000 claims. This week’s increases of more than 1,000 claims were partly influenced by school vacations, with layoffs in school bus transportation.

The unemployment rate held at 8.3 percent in February, causing the stock market to rebound strongly and the Volatility Index, or “fear index,” is down.

Nicholas Bloom, associate professor of economics at Stanford University, said the country is finally seeing a recovery after a long recession.

“Now in early 2012, it looks like the recovery has really started. Unemployment is falling rapidly and employment is rising. The stock market has risen a lot because the stock market is forward thinking and the falls have been reasonably persistent,” Bloom said.

Bloom is optimistic that the rest of 2012 will see a continued recovery after the end of massive policy uncertainty in the U.S. and Europe. Bloom said he would not be surprised if unemployment dropped to anywhere between 7.5 and 7.7 percent by November’s general election.

“For the last four years there have been endless debates about economic policy in the U.S. and Europe that have generated massive uncertainty, leading firms to be cautious and delay investing and hiring,” Bloom said. “Finally that political uncertainty seems to be subsiding.”

Government employment and construction employment fell in February but manufacturing has added more than 30,000 jobs and temporary jobs continue to grow significantly.  Though temporary jobs do not signify long-term stabilization, the addition of temporary jobs shows that employers are investing in the economy again.

Janet Currie, Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University, said the economy will stay on track after considerable job growth despite the fact that the housing sector has not fully recovered and the European economy is still at risk.

“A lot of sectors like auto industry are turning around. It was a puzzle that companies that were doing better were still firing but now they’re changing how they look at where the markets are going,” Currie said.

The labor force participation rate has continued to decrease but other unseen factors besides the long-term unemployed could affect the rate, such as the number of people that have decided to wait out the recession in school or an increase in the number of retiring baby boomers.

“The labor participation rate is very cyclical. If a 50-year-old woman drops out of the market because she’s redundant at her job and she stops working, there is a chance she is getting an online education and we don’t know,” Bloom said.

The participation rate increased a lot in the 1970s and 1980s because baby boomers and a rising number of women were entering the workforce producing numbers that would have changed regardless of the recession. The   The Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project, which studies how many jobs it will take to get to pre-recession employment levels, has projected that America’s changing demographics of aging baby boomers will permanently change participation rate expectations. Assuming the economy had fully recovered, the labor participation rate was expected to decline to 90,000 people in 2018.

Despite jobs sector growth, it is important to remember that many Americans remain out of work. Although the economy is returning to health, the number of people who rely on emergency and extended payments increased by more than 25,000 claims and 12.8 million people are still unemployed.

Initial Jobless Claims Drop to 2008 Levels

Initial jobless claims have fallen to pre-financial meltdown levels. Economists say the return to 2008 jobless claim numbers signals a return to a stronger job market. The substantial drop in claims trails a positive jobs report in month of January, which has sparked cautious optimism among economists that the recovery is gathering steam.

Claims dropped by 13,000 claims from the previous week. The four-week moving average decreased by more than 1,500 claims from the previous week. Jobless claims have continued to drop for the third straight week, showing that more people are entering the job market.

Phillip Levine, professor of economics at Wellesley College, said this week’s report indicates a slow return to normal.

“The good news is there are fewer people entering the unemployment pool and that indicates that businesses are starting to hire again,” Levine said. “Even in good times there is a normal flow of layoffs and this is not much higher than it would be during an extended period of good times, which shows things are really improving.”

Productivity has experienced slow growth in the fourth quarter of 2011 as labor costs increased by 1.2 percent, which could spur hiring if employers discover they can no longer squeeze the same profit out of fewer workers.

The most recent Mass Layoff Summary also shows layoff events and separations were at their lowest fourth quarter levels since 2005, showing that employers have stemmed the bleeding and are beginning to hire again.

Unfortunately the drop in jobless claims does not account for the number of long-term unemployed, who may be forced to drop out of the work force entirely as their skills degrade and become less marketable. The number of people claiming Emergency Unemployment Compensation, a program created in 2008 to support the long term unemployed, has continued to increase this month.

Nationally, there are still 8.8. million more unemployed workers than there are advertised vacancies, and that number does not align the unemployed with the occupations that are advertised for.

Though economists see the recent decreases in unemployment and jobless claims as evidence that more money is flowing into the economy, eventually affecting ailing sectors such as housing, they say this not the time declare victory.

Jesse Rothstein, associate professor of public policy and economics for Berkeley’s Goldman School, was guarded in his assessment of today’s drop in new jobless claims and last month’s unemployment rate.

“There are reasons to be careful. The rate is not falling all that fast.  It could continue growing or it could be five to seven years until things have gotten back to normal,” Rothstein said.

Rothstein said the battle over legislation continuing payroll cuts and the extension of emergency unemployment benefits could yank the rug out from under the recovery. Congress is reaching a deal to continue the payroll tax cut and emergency unemployment benefits, but benefits would be shortened to 73 weeks from the original 99 weeks by this fall.