Behind Vermont's unemployment numbers - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Behind Vermont's unemployment numbers

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BURLINGTON, Vt. - Numbers reported in April show Vermont has the second lowest unemployment rate in the country. But for some Vermonters who are out of work or don't have full-time work, it may not feel that way. With new unemployment numbers due out later this week, WCAX-TV decided to take a look at who is actually counted in that monthly rate -- and who is left out.

Kimberly Jacobs is working towards a goal, but she's not getting paid. She is one of Vermont's long-term unemployed.

On this day she's at the Champlain Senior Center in Burlington, serving lunch as part of a job skills training program through Vermont Works for Women. "This is a stepping stone for me really -- outside of my comfort zone -- and it's like a first step for me to go back to work," Jacobs said.

The program focuses on soft skills needed to get a job -- communication, how to write a resume, how to be confident in a job interview, and the best way to talk about what some employers might see as blemishes on your record.

"Sixty-three percent of our women have not been employed in the last 12 months who are working with us, and face a number of unemployment barriers. They might have a criminal record, they might lack transportation, stable housing, childcare," said Rachel Jolly with Vermont Works for Women.

Jacobs used to steal to feed a drug habit, but she's been crime free for four years and drug free for two.  Vermont has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, but she knows for her, finding full-time work could take a lot of work.

Reporter Kristin Kelly: What does that mean to you when Vermont's unemployment is so low?

Kimberly Jacobs: I really find that hard to believe... ...The real actuality of unemployment may be higher than their statistics.

Many unemployed workers -- whether they have so-called "barriers to employment" or not -- feel that way.

The monthly unemployment rate seen in the media and often touted or slammed by politicians and interest groups is just one measure of a specific group of unemployed workers. It is called the U-3 unemployment rate. Last month in Vermont it was 3.4 percent -- second lowest in the nation. But it only captures part of the picture. Some long-term unemployed, like Jacobs, are not counted.

"To be unemployed you have to be actively looking for work within the last four weeks," said Mathew Barewicz, an Economist with the Vermont Department of Labor.  He says every state follows the same federal guidelines and definitions to track unemployment, so data can be compared accurately.

While Vermont's monthly U-3 unemployment rate is 3.4 percent,  the so-called U-6 rate that we do not often hear about is 9.2 percent -- fifth lowest in the country. The U-6 rate looks at a bigger section of the workforce. "That could be individuals who say they want work but are not looking for work. It could include individuals who say they want work but are not available to accept work, and it could also include individuals in its broadest context in the U-6. There are individuals who say they are working but they are only working part-time and they would like full-time work,"  Barewicz said.

The U-6 and other rates can give a more detailed picture of where the economy is. Data from the last decade indicate Vermont's unemployment rates are moving in a good direction, slowly bouncing back from the recession, when the monthly unemployment rate hit a high of 6.5 percent and the broader U-6 rate showed more than 12 percent of Vermonters wanted a job or a full-time job.

Total jobs numbers are another piece of the economic picture. While unemployment rates are based on surveys of workers, employers report jobs numbers to the state. And these numbers also show the hit Vermont took during the recession, and slow upward movement.

Also slowly increasing -- the median hourly wage in Vermont. Last year it was $17 an hour. "Employers are telling us they are hiring and there is work out there in the state of Vermont. It doesn't always match the needs of individuals. That's what they call structural unemployment. But there is work out there, so it is good news that our unemployment is not going down because of a decrease in the labor force associated with people giving up looking for work," Barewicz said.

The health of the economy could be a big factor in what happens to Kimberly Jacobs. Officials with Vermont Works for Women say during the recession it was much harder for clients to train their way toward full-time jobs. Jacobs says she hopes her work now will eventually pay off with a full-time position, maybe in the human services field. "It'll be like -- it'll be like a dream, you know? It will make me feel really good about myself. Not only that, but make my family proud of me, which is something that is really important to me, because to be honest, they haven't been," she said.

One of the pressures on Vermont's economic vitality is an aging population. Barewicz says right now the numbers show aging Vermonters impacting Vermont's jobs picture in two ways. Baby boomers are retiring, and some who held off on retirement when the economy faltered a few years ago are now feeling they can leave the workforce. But at the same time he says many older workers are still working, either by holding onto their jobs or by retiring and picking up a new one.

Click here for more data from The Vermont Department of Labor.

Click here to find out more about Vermont Works for Women Transitional Jobs program.

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