Things looking grim for unemployed

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HARRISBURG -- With an estimated five applicants for every job, times are tough for Pennsylvania's unemployed, and there's no relief in sight, according to a report released Wednesday by the state Department of Labor and Industry.

The report shows that by the end of the year, 157,500 Pennsylvanians will have been unemployed so long they will longer be eligible for regular and emergency unemployment compensation, which end after 99 weeks.

That number could be as high as 304,000 by April.

"We are facing the longest period of high joblessness since the Great Depression," Labor Secretary Sandi Vito said.

The report, she said, "illustrates -- with clarity -- the challenges faced by citizens who, through no fault of their own, have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet."

Troy Thomas, 48, of North Braddock, a former collections adjuster, knows that all too well.

Since his bank job was phased out two years ago, he has sent numerous resumes to law firms, financial institutions, car rental companies and other businesses.

"The jobs aren't out there," said Mr. Thomas, who has a college degree and 20 years work experience.

He collected unemployment for 99 weeks, exhausting his benefits on Aug. 8. Since then, he has fallen behind in his rent and has had to depend on friends and family more than he'd like.

Soon, he may apply for food stamps.

"I don't want to," he said. "It's humiliating, but I'm getting hungry. It's really desperate."

In all, about 600,000 unemployed Pennsylvanians are seeking work. Nearly 232,000 of them have been out of work for more than six months and are known as "long-term unemployed."

Those figures don't include people who have become so discouraged that they stopped looking for work. In the second quarter of 2010, that figure was 40,400, according to the Department of Labor and Industry.

Unemployment began to rise in 2008. Between 2005 and 2007, the number of unemployed ranged from 275,000 to 312,000. During those years, no more than 65,000 at any one time were long-term unemployed.

According to the report, many of Pennsylvania's unemployed have significant education.

Eighty-three percent have at least a high school diploma, and 39 percent have attended college.

Fifty-eight percent are between 25 and 54 years old.

Of those who have exhausted their benefits, 36 percent have at least one dependent.

"No demographic has been untouched by unemployment," Ms. Vito said.

Ms. Vito said an extension of unemployment benefits would help, but that isn't the only solution. Education and job training can help the unemployed get a leg up, she said.

Mr. Thomas, who has a college degree and is a paralegal, said education and training haven't helped him find a job.

He said the emotional repercussions are as devastating as the financial ones.

"It's a pride thing. I've been a team player, an overachiever all my life. Now I'm beating the pavement and not getting anywhere," he said.

It's the same for Paul Sapienza, 49, who has been unemployed for 92 weeks and soon will lose his benefits.

Mr. Sapienza said he has sent about 400 resumes and has had only two interviews and no job offers.

Meanwhile he has been living on $482 a week, down from $750 or more he had earned each week as a home inspector for an insurance company.

He has had one of his two vehicles repossessed, dropped out of an online master's degree program because he couldn't afford the tuition, moved from Bethel Park to a cheaper apartment in Bakerstown, and reluctantly sought help from a food pantry.

"I'm barely surviving," Mr. Sapienza said.

He doesn't know what he'll do if he doesn't find a job by November when unemployment checks stop coming.

"I don't get depressed easily, but if it gets worse, things are going to be very depressing," he said. "It's tough, and I know a lot of people like me. I really do. It's a lot worse than people believe."


Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-2141.


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