Unemployment Hits Hard

Overall the nation’s job picture improved for November. While 8 states watched unemployment climb, 36 plus the District of Columbia saw the unemployment rate decrease. Non-farm jobs actually increased in 19 states. Texas led the pack with a gain of 17,300 jobs, followed by Ohio, Georgia, Arizona and Iowa. On the other hand, Florida lost 16,700 jobs while Michigan dropped 14,000 to lead the nation with a 14.7% unemployment rate. There is a discrepancy between the two rates because unemployment doesn’t count those who have stopped looking for work.

Nationally Latino unemployment for November was 12.7% while the black rate was 15.6%, double that of whites. Drilling down to the local level, the picture remains bleak for many communities. In California, the state with the most foreclosures, some areas have unemployment on a par with the Great Depression. Parts of South Los Angeles and the city of Compton have more than one in five out of work. In sections of Kings, Fresno and Imperial counties that number rises to one in three.  Not surprisingly in areas like these, local businesses close, foreclosures climb, and home values fall. According to MDA DataQuick some parts of Compton have seen home values plummet by 39%. In these neighborhoods one type of business is booming, pawn shops, which are thriving as the lenders of last resort. A major problem here is the erosion of blue collar jobs in manufacturing and construction that could take a long time to recover if at all.

In this holiday season, it’s time to reflect on the human costs of these numbers. Certain bills are vital, like housing, medical, food and utilities.  Rising energy costs have squeezed the unemployed. Since 2000, the cost of heating a home with oil has doubled, while electricity has gone up by a third. Too often people are forced to choose between eating and staying warm. In 2009, 31,000 households in Rhode Island will have their utilities shut off. In Connecticut, that number has already topped 105,000.

Some states like California, Indiana, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania offer low income residents reduced utility rates. There is also federal aid through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program,LIHEAP,  which offers one time assistance grants. In 2009, a record 8.1 million households got help here that averaged $500 each. If your income qualifies and it’s allowed by your locality, contact your utilities for a rate reduction. The application process is easy and can cover electricity, gas, water and land line telephone.

According to a NY Times, CBS News poll this month, more than half of the unemployed have cut back on medical treatment; nearly half have no health insurance. Unemployment also exacts a profound emotional toll. Almost half of those who have lost their jobs have suffered from depression or anxiety. Nearly half said unemployment had led to more disputes with friends or family. More than half have suffered from insomnia. Nearly half of the adults surveyed admitted to feeling embarrassed or ashamed due to being out of work. About half have had to borrow money from family and friends.  Nearly 4 in 10 parents have noticed changes in how their children behave. One in four of those surveyed had been threatened with foreclosure or the loss of their homes.

It’s been a tough year economically for all of us, however, as you go down your Christmas list, see if you can squeeze out a bit of help for a local charity. It’s a good time to extend this season of giving to those who truly need our help.

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