Area jobless brace for fall off 'fiscal cliff'
Rockland — The CareerCenter in Rockland is preparing to help 144 Knox County residents who are expected to lose their unemployment benefits in January if the nation plunges off the so-called "fiscal cliff."
The cliff is a series of automatic tax hikes and government spending cuts that will go into effect at the beginning of 2013 unless members of Congress can reach a budget agreement. Included on the chopping block is the federal extension on unemployment benefits.
A total of 7,170 Mainers are at risk of losing their unemployment benefits Jan. 2, according to Communication Director Julie Rabinowitz of the Maine Department of Labor. Among those are 144 residents from Knox County, 147 from Lincoln County and 235 from Waldo County, according to figures provided by the CareerCenter, which is a labor department program.
"If you're relying on Congress to extend benefits... they're not reliable," Rabinowitz said.
She said the state started warning job seekers of the potential loss in benefits in September and is warning them again this month.
"It's a challenge this time of year," she said. "It's hard and there are a lot of people looking for work," Rabinowitz said.
At stake is the federal extension on unemployment benefits. Through the State of Maine, workers who lose their jobs due to layoffs or business closures are eligible for 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. Following the financial crash in 2008 and the subsequent recession, the federal government provided funding for an extension of those benefits, up to 99 weeks in some cases, Rabinowitz said.
The economy has not recovered as quickly as it has in other recessions, and the problems continue four years later, according to Rabinowitz.
The extension on unemployment benefits has been threatened before during the past four years, saved only by last-minute budget decisions in Washington.
"It often comes down to the wire," said David Grima of Rockland's CareerCenter. "What is different this time is we've heard very little optimism that Congress will continue to extend benefits."
"It's a waiting game for them [those receiving benefits]," Rabinowitz said.
The loss will not be limited to the 7,000 losing benefits in January. Grima said between 150 and 200 citizens statewide are expected to come to the end of their regular unemployment benefits per week going forward in 2013 with no federal safety net to catch them.
In 2011, the unemployment rate in Knox County was about 7 percent, according to the Maine Department of Labor website. That means 1,471 were unemployed out of a workforce of 20,901. The county unemployment rate was better than that for Maine as a whole and the U.S.
In 2007, before the crash, Knox County had an unemployment rate of 4.4 percent.
The county had an unemployment rate of 5.7 percent in October 2012, according to the state website. That number has fluctuated over the course of the year.
Rabinowitz said employees at the CareerCenter are on "high alert" and stand ready to help.
"The CareerCenter folks are exceptionally compassionate," she said. She said they are career counselors in a true sense.
The CareerCenter provides training in how to write a resume, how to look for job listings online and how to handle job interviews. It can help displaced workers connect with education and training programs.
The center is also providing lists of local food pantries, contact numbers for foreclosure prevention hotlines and temp services, which can provide a bridge to permanent employment.
"People will come in and say, 'I'm doomed, what do I do?'" Grima said.
However, he said despite all the terrible stories coming out of the economic crises, there are also people finding jobs. He said it greatly improves their chances of success if they put the time and effort into learning how to look for work through the center.
Grima urges those who are struggling, "Please come and see us."
For more information contact 596-2600 or visit mainecareercenter.com. The CareerCenter is located at 91 Camden Street on the second floor.
News Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter at @DanDunkle.