Agony of unemployment

When unemployment becomes months or even years, an otherwise hard worker can start to feel unworthy of ever being hired.

Statistically, it’s harder to get job once you’ve been out of work. And, emotionally, that can take a toll on a person’s mental well-being.

“It’s generally true that people who are unemployed longer have more difficulty getting employment,” said William Kuntsman, spokesman for the Hawaii Department of Labor. “Employers are less likely to hire them.”

The Department of Labor defines long-term unemployed as 27 weeks or longer — when weekly benefits typically expire.

Involuntary part-time workers, those who take any work until they find full time jobs, numbered 31,200 in Hawaii last year, according to the state Current Population, and another 8,200 were unemployed for 27 weeks or more — compared to 10,500 people in 2013.

The DOL funds several programs to help the unemployed find work.

The Department of Labor funds the Dislocated Worker Program with career counseling and preparation services to facilitate re-entry into the job market. It also funds the National Emergency Grant and Workforce Investment Act to assist with training and apprenticeships.

WorkWise Kauai Branch offers some of those services on island.

Manager Eric Nordmeier said the economy is a factor in long-term unemployment, but often the able and willing will find work even it’s just something that tides them over until they find a more suitable job.

The long-term unemployed often have other barriers preventing them from working, such as a bleak work history or a criminal record, or just refusing to settle for something. Most can take steps to work around barriers.

Nordmeier recently assisted four inmates from Kauai Community Correction Center that were laid off from furlough positions at a seed company. They did not use their names, but said the program has taught them to persevere.

“It has really made me think and appreciate whatever comes to me, and not to look at what I can do just for my best interest but to help others,” one man said.

A 30-year-old Kapaa man who once worked in landscaping and construction, said five years in jail taught him to value work and to do whatever is required of him. As soon as he became eligible he worked hard to remain in the community.

“I see this as community outreach, giving back,” he said. “When I get out, I can’t be picky about jobs and will take whatever is available.”

Kalaheo psychiatrist Krishna Kumar said losing a job — and remaining unemployed — can harm a person emotionally and physically.

“Initially, we go through shock, disbelief, bewilderment and confusion when we lose our employment providing us income for necessities of living,” Kumar said. “Unemployment can be an emotional storm in our lives. The mind goes through periods of brooding.”

People worry about surviving financially, supporting a spouse and children, and what their family and friends think about them not working and start to wonder “Why I can’t find any job?” he added.

As time passes, the thoughts are more internalized. The worker worries that something is wrong with them and wonders what they are not doing right.

This can cause stress, which can compound itself, and it’s best to focus on staying healthy and not fixate on the negative.

“Focus on the process of finding employment rather than having the job,” Kumar said. “Stop brooding.”

Another option is to go back to school.

James Dire Ph.D., Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at Kauai Community College, said more than half of the campus population are non-traditional students — outside of the traditional 18 to 22 age group. Many are there for a career change or because of unemployment.

“The student population tends to surge during times of high unemployment, and declines with lower unemployment,” Dire said. “That is the trend in the state and nationwide.”

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