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You’re not seeing those people in statistics. They’re not being counted.

North Country job numbers don't tell the whole story

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The state department of labor last week released numbers that show unemployment is down in the North Country. Last year at this time, the unemployment rate was 8.8%--now it's 8.4%.

St. Lawrence County had the largest decline, with August unemployment down .8% from July.

Any good economic numbers sound like good news, but unemployment statistics don't necessarily give a complete picture.

For example, they don't count people who've given up looking, or who are working part-time but would like to work more--or people who can't afford to work. Nora Flaherty took a look at what the numbers do--and don't--tell us.

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Nora Flaherty
Digital Editor, News

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In June of 2010, Marty Marks of Lake Placid got laid off from his web development job at an ad agency.

He updated his resume, started networking and combing the newspaper and job boards—and filed for unemployment insurance. That meant he had to apply for about one job each week.

And I wouldn’t hear back from almost anyone and I’d go two months without hearing from them!

Along with a lot of IT jobs, Marks applied at hotels, banks, and the Transportation Security Administration. In December, he worked for UPS for a few days during their holiday rush.

His parents helped out with his rent—otherwise, unemployment and a few odd jobs fixing peoples’ computers and the like, got him through.

Finally, after a lot of interviews, a lot of not hearing back, and a lot of frustration, Marks found a job, as an IT assistant at the Mirror Lake inn. He started in June.

It took a while to get used to wearing a tie but I’m used to it now.

***

People are finding ways to manage, I can’t say what will happen in five years, but that’s what’s happening now.

Jean Hantz works for the St. Lawrence County department of social services, matching up job-seekers with jobs. She says many people’s situations are more complicated than Marty Marks’:

There are people out there who are working part time, who are some of the people who are living with family or friends or getting minor assistance. And they want to work full time. There’s also people who have dropped out of the labor market. And you’re not seeing those people in stats—they’re not being counted.

Hantz says it’s “A rule of thumb” that you can about double the official unemployment numbers, if you count people who are significantly underemployed, or have dropped out of the labor market.

Some of those people get by doing work on the cheap, for cash—and supplement their income with government assistance like food stamps.

And then there are people who’d like to work, but can’t afford to:

People need a certain amount of money to work, you need transportation, clothing, childcare, it costs money to go to work.

If a job doesn’t pay enough to cover those expenses, or to, say, fix your car when it breaks down—you actually lose money by working.

Hantz says she gets lots of applicants for jobs that pay higher wages—but she has less luck with jobs that are low-wage, inconsistent, or seasonal.

***

The nearly half-a-percent drop in the jobless rate might sound hopeful…but people who figure out labor statistics say short-term numbers don’t mean that much.

Labor market analyst Alan Beideck says the .4% drop in unemployment the North Country has seen this year is…

[A] really insignificant decline, because of the statistically insignificant for a decline of 0.4% [does that mean it falls within the margin of error?] yes.

So maybe that .4% isn’t significant—but Beideck says if we look at the numbers over time, the trend in the North Country is toward job growth…it’s just proceeding very slowly. I’m Nora Flaherty, North Country Public Radio.

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