Inslee visits Hopelink in Kirkland to discuss unemployment

During a roundtable discussion at Hopelink in Kirkland, Gov. Jay Inslee met with job seekers and various organizations to determine ways to reduce long-term unemployment in King County. Among the main points raised were hiring practices by employers and the negative effects of I-1163 that one employer said has created a shortage of home care providers.

While Inslee and others expressed their belief the economy had improved, among whom included Kirkland Deputy Mayor Penny Sweet, they admitted layoffs were still occurring and a significant percentage of people were having trouble finding work.

According to Marlena Session, CEO of Workforce Development Council of Seattle King County, there are approximately 30,000 people in the county who have been unemployed for more than six months and no longer show up in unemployment figures.

One problem is that King County is known for its affluent communities, particularly on the Eastside where poverty isn’t considered an issue, according to Lauren Thomas, chief executive officer for Hopelink, who said there are 36,000 people living in poverty and 17,000 kids who qualify for free and reduced cost lunches at school.

King County is the most populous in the state and 86th highest-income county in the country. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 2009-2013 11.5 percent of people in the county were living under the poverty line, compared to 13.4 percent overall for the state.

The consequences of prolonged unemployment can self-perpetuate, Thomas said, as workers lose their jobs, they find “survivor” jobs to pay the bills, and then get laid off. She also said it is creating a generation of workers who have never had a successful job.

Inslee expressed his support for retraining programs, saying the state had allocated $10 million in the last budget to fund such programs. These programs, he said, would allow unemployed workers to gain the skills necessary to get jobs in an increasingly tech-focused economy.

“It’s just not acceptable,” he said of the unemployment figures. “You can look at this as a fairness issue and helping people, but it’s also an economic issue.”

When Inslee asked for feedback on what can be done to improve the situation, Esther Cooper, a director at CareForce Inc., said Initiative 1163, passed in 2011, has created a shortage of home care providers by adding onerous regulations.

I-1163 requires 75 hours of paid training for long-term care workers, more than twice as many as the previous 35 hours.

She said that the regulations put in place have made it difficult to attract new workers, as they often do not have the money to afford the training in places like Shoreline, all of which are private institutions.

“The problem is the talent is not out there for home care,” she said. “There are no caregivers out there…1163 stopped that. It’s not as easy to join… There’s not the facility to get talent in or more to step into it. The training is costing the state a lot of money.”

The roundtable later included testimonies from job seekers who had suffered from prolonged unemployment. One of them, Brent Bartlett, said he discovered the state’s Commissioner Approved Training/Training Benefits (CAT/TB), which allows unemployed workers to put off their job search while they get an education without losing their unemployment benefits. However, he said he didn’t learn about it until four months after he had lost his job. According to the website, there is a 90 day window to apply for the training benefits and a 120 day window to enroll in the approved training program.

Organizations like Hopelink helped him out while he was unemployed by making their food bank available, as he received too much money in unemployment benefits to qualify for government food stamps.

Another job seeker, who was unemployed for a year, discussed his inability to get a job interview, which finally led him to go to Worksource in Redmond. He eventually got a job as a customer service representative while taking retraining programs. Right now, he is taking computer classes at the Lake Washington Institute of Technology.

Job seekers and county officials said they wish to see a change in the hiring practices by employers. One of the job seekers told the panel that the biggest problems he’s faced is being considered too old or overqualified for a job, even after landing an interview.

Sessions said employers can either unwittingly or knowingly rule out older applicants during the initial screening process for resumes, which can often lead them to remove high school and college graduation dates.

At the same time, she said when they’ve met with the business community and discussed it with them they are eager to change their methods, as they often have worker shortages.

At the end of the discussion Inslee noted that prolonged unemployment is a problem everywhere else in the state.

“This is universal,” he said. “People don’t understand that. You have good people with good backgrounds relying on food stamps.”

“The most demanding job is getting a job,” he also said.

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