Work It Up: A New Model for Job Groups?

Work It Up logoInitiated in May 2009 by a group of unemployed project managers who met a the Portland, Maine, Career Center’s Unemployed Professionals Group, Work It Up is a nonprofit organization designed to address the “two halves of the broken economy”: unemployed professionals like themselves, and underfunded small businesses, nonprofits, and self-employed individuals.

It does so by matching the skills of unemployed professionals – sometimes after basic training in project management – with the needs of small organizations in the community. The team does an assessment, the client chooses a short-term project, which the team completes. The client merely pays an administrative fee to cover those costs; the professional’s services are free, much like an unpaid internship.

And like an internship, the unemployed worker’s benefits include being productive, having a recent accomplishment to highlight in a resume or an interview, and adding a new reference.

Another approach Work It Up has taken is offering its professional members’ services as a “trial period” to small business that are growing. When the businesses are ready to hire, these workers are more likely to make it to their short lists. Even with no opening, the professionals have new networking connections with executives and hiring managers at the business.

It’s a win-win model, so much so that one of the co-founders has committed to Work It Up full-time. Now that it has formal nonprofit status, it can accept donations and grants, which it will need to move from all-volunteer staff to full-time paid staff for the long term.

Need I say that many participants have gotten jobs? Internships work. The proof is in the results.

What’s Wrong – or Right – with This Picture?

Today I stumbled across UC Berkeley economist Brad DeLong’s blog, which had this chart in the header, but too small to read. So I clicked to see a larger version – the version you see here. It came from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. It shows the ratio of civilian (not military) employment to the population as a whole. It’s possibly of the adult population, I can’t tell; but no matter.

The main point is this: it’s the percentage of the population that is employed, from 2005 till now.

I think we can all figure out why Professor DeLong put that red circle where he did. We all felt it. We’re all living it. Employment tanked in 2009 – and stayed tanked. It’s stuck at the bottom, like we are.

Chart: Employment-to-Population Ratio

Civilian Employment-Population Ratio, from the Federal Reserve of St. Louis

Coming Soon: A Primer on Unemployment Insurance

I am working on a new Resources page covering the basic rules of Unemployment Insurance, which I hope will help you know what to expect and avoid some of the pitfalls of the program. Although the program is legislated by Congress, it is administered by the states, and each state handles it a little differently.

Meanwhile, this link will get you started: Unemployment Insurance Fact Sheet from the U.S. Dept. of Labor.

June 3 update: I’ve posted an in-progress Unemployment Insurance Basics page, with more to come.

Web Project – and Local TV Coverage – Helps Portland Grandfather Find a Job

The Web project Over 50 and Out of Work has traveled across the country interviewing older unemployed workers for its video project, this month reaching its goal of 100 video stories.

One of those stories was about Rudy Limas, a single grandfather raising his two young grandchildren on his own. A 30-year veteran truck driver, he assumed he would land another job quickly. That was in 2009.

But when Over 50 and Out of Work interviewed Rudy in his home town of Portland, Oregon, the local news station, KATU, included him in its own story on unemployment. From that news coverage, four employers called with job offers. As this KATU video reports, he chose to train as a machine operator at Plastic Metals Technologies in nearby Tigard, Oregon. The owner said he hired Rudy for his experience and reliability, something he found missing in many younger new workers.

The “99 Club”: 1 Million and Counting

Many thanks to statistics geek and retired guy Arsen Darnay for digging up this gem from a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) commissioner’s presentation in January 2011. It shows what’s hard to find anywhere else: an estimate of how many people have been unemployed for 99 weeks or longer.

The significance of “99 weeks” is this: Even if you qualify for every (temporary) extension of Unemployment Insurance Congress has provided during the Great Recession – a big “if” – you cannot get benefits for more than 99 weeks altogether on one stretch. The first batch of “99ers” began to reach that limit and run out of benefits last year; since then, the club has grown each week – but the BLS hasn’t publicized their statistics.

Enter Arsen Darnay to the rescue. It took some doing, but he managed to find this presentation buried somewhere in the BLS Web site. It shows that, as of December 2010 (or thereabouts), more than 1 million people have been unemployed for 99 weeks or longer.

It’s a club no one wants to belong to.

Unemployment chart

Long-term Unemployment Averages, 1980-2010

Arsen Darnay’s site – old and new – have many more quirky and insightful things to say about the state of the economy and the people.

New Section: Your Stories

The new Your Stories section features exactly that: your stories, submitted to New Hard Times via the new Tell Your Story form. The first story comes from Arlington Heights, Illinois, from a communications specialst who has “tried everything” to find a job. She survives – barely – with a part-time retail job and a few freelance writing projects. Contrary to government and media reports of an upturn in the economy, her “in the trenches” report says things have gotten worse.

Time Magazine’s Recession Stories

Emily McMillan, unemployed worker

Emily McMillan / Photo by Zach Wolfe for Time

Time Magazine has a special report online called Out of Work in America, which profiles 16 jobless workers and how they’re coping with the prospect of long-term unemployment. Emily McMillan (left) has been out of work since August 2010 and is now pregnant. Luckily, her husband still has a good job, but his income alone is not enough to invest in a new house. (Note: The special report is undated, but clues indicate it was published in fall 2010.)

In a separate story, published May 23, Time reports on a growing trend of discrimination against the unemployed, quoting a Sony Eriksson online job posting that said, “No unemployed candidates will be considered at all.” The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission is investigating this trend, and few employers have been so blatant, but so far, the practice is not illegal.