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Unemployment workers speak on benefits debate

Dan Gorenstein Dec 2, 2011

Steve Chiotakis: In about an hour and a half, we’re gonna get the Labor Department’s November employment report. And it comes at a time as Congress debates whether to extend jobless benefits again. This week we’ve been asking whether keeping out-of-work Americans on unemployment benefits discourages them from looking for work.

New Hampshire Public Radio’s Dan Gorenstein reports.

Dan Gorenstein: Mary Jane Bickford’s got skills. She’s verified home titles for 16 years, she’s worked as an administrative assistant and a legal secretary, too. In six months, she’s had two nibbles. Bickford says she’s got no idea how to find a job.

Mary Jane Bickford: I was just talking to somebody, and I said, what do you have to do? Do you have to write all over your resume and say, ‘Please, pick me, pick me’?

That frustration is all too familiar to Cindy Dobrowolski.

Cindy Dobrowolski: At the end of the day, we leave here pretty depressed with the stories that we hear.

Dobrowolski is an unemployment counselor at the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security.

Dobrowolski: You feel for them. You feel responsible. They are looking to you for advice, and you give them your best advice, and they adhere to it and do everything they can, and yet the jobs aren’t coming.

Dobrowolski says most of her clients are like Bickford, decent people trying to claw their way back into the workforce. What they are slamming into is the brick wall of a brutal job market. Even here in New Hampshire — where unemployment is a lot lower than the national average — for every job open, there are two people looking. Given all that, Dobrowolski and many of her colleagues want Congress to extend the unemployment benefits.

But Employment Security Deputy Commissioner Daryl Gates says if that’s going to happen, the system needs some tweaks.

Daryl Gates: I think it’s important for the individuals that are in extended benefits to have more of an obligation to come into the offices every two weeks to show us proof that they have expanded their work search efforts.

Gates thinks stricter requirements would force people into looking harder and being more open to jobs that pay less. But he also wants Washington to send the states more money to focus on the people who need these extensions. He hopes a little extra counseling and training could be the difference between work and running out of benefits entirely. Before, Gates says, the true desperation sets in.

In Concord, N.H., I’m Dan Gorenstein for Marketplace.

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