Adding Injury to Injury: Unemployment Benefit Cuts Add to Jobless Struggle

                When Arthur Perlo was laid off from Yale University’s Information Technology department in 2010, he knew that finding another job wasn’t going to be easy.

                At the time, he had no other choice, but hope of obtaining full-time employment faded more and more throughout the course of his three-year search.

                “I was better off than most people,” Perlo said during a phone interview. “They continued my salary and benefits for a year, which was helpful.”

After that and his 99 weeks of unemployment benefits expired, he relied on an extension of the latter to catch him when he was still without a job.

                “I kept looking even though it was hopeless,” Perlo said. “I knew with my age and skill set it was hopeless. Once I stopped getting unemployment I stopped looking for work because there was no point.”

                Luckily for Perlo, by that time he no longer needed to.

                “I was fortunate enough to be able to retire by the time my extended unemployment ran out,” Perlo said.

                At the end of the year, 1.3 million Americans were stripped of the extended benefits that helped individuals like Perlo get by during the long-and too often empty-job search. In Connecticut, where the unemployment rate was a seasonally adjusted 7.6-compared to 7.0 nationally-as of November 2013, that’s just more bad news for those already struggling.

                “What people are facing now are questions of mortgage payments-maybe losing their homes,” said Robert Fort, Marketing Director for New Haven’s Workforce Alliance, which works with individuals and families in dealing with unemployment, amongst other labor-related issues. “People who lost it around Christmas basically cancelled Christmas. They [already] had no resources, and they knew they had no resources coming in.”

                And that unemployment rate? At the national level at least, December 2013’s 6.7-a drop from the previous month-is misleading, according to Fort.

                “It’s deceptive as hell,” he said. “It looks like it’s gone down. What’s gone up is the number of people looking and the number of people who gave up and dropped out altogether.”

                The labor force participation rate decreased from 63 percent to 62.8 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

                Perlo knows that he dodged a bullet. While his experience certainly wasn’t easy, he has seen others go through worse.

                As a founding member of the New Haven People’s Center’s unemployment committee-a group of laid off individuals that banded together for everything from morale support and leads to job creation-related political activism-Perlo worked alongside those that saw their lives unravel in what he says becomes a vicious cycle.

                “They couldn’t maintain payments on their car, and once you lose your car, how can you get to job interviews and to work?” Perlo said. “I know somebody else who lost not only his car, but his house and had to live with friends, and still hasn’t been able to find full-time work. Once you’re in that situation you’re trapped. Your resume doesn’t show current work, [and] you can’t maintain phone payments, so how are you going to take calls for interviews?”

                Between 2007 and 2010-when Perlo and his fellow unemployment committee members were looking for work, the median job search length-for a successful candidate-jumped from 5.2 weeks to 10.4 weeks, according to the a Division of Labor Force Statistics study. For those who did not find employment and gave up, the median period stretched from 8.7 to 21.4 weeks between 2007 and 2011, according to the report.

                As of December 2013, the median duration of unemployment was 17.1, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average amount of time was 37.1 weeks.

                “It’s hard enough for most families, with very little as it is, to suddenly find a way to exist just on unemployment,” Perlo said. “To take that away from people-that little lifeline that keeps them slightly above water-is just cruel.” 

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