LIHUE — Kauai resident and union electrician Matt Olsen has been out of work for six months.
It is at the point when stress can really begin to set in, according to the 51-year-old.
“The fear starts to build that I’m getting into that category where nobody’s going to want to employ me because I’ve been unemployed for too long,” he said. “And there’s a stigma attached to that.”
Despite Thursday being the day after Christmas, Olsen — along with four other unemployed Kauai residents — was up early, attending a class at Work Wise Kauai for people who have exhausted their state claims and entered in the Federal Extension for unemployment insurance benefits.
“These are the ones who have been unemployed, eligible to collect UI benefits for at least 26 weeks and are still unemployed,” branch manager Eric Nordmeier said. “These are the (ones) who have not been able to find work.”
For Olsen, joblessness — which he has experienced before — leaves him feeling ashamed, overwhelmed and down-and-out.
“For every different situation, it feels like there’s five ways to fall through the cracks,” he said.
Most recently, the journeyman electrician was laid off after a project ended. His union has failed to secure work for him since.
As a result, Olsen is considering a move to Australia, where he believes he will have a better chance of finding work. While his unemployment checks are enough to make ends meet, they are not enough to put money away.
“My immediate needs are taken care of, but I’m stressing out about the future,” he said. “Plus I’m 51 years old. I got to be thinking about retirement money.”
Thursday’s session at Work Wise was led by counselor David Longmore, who discussed with those in attendance — including two veterans — the tools and programs available for people seeking work.
One of his main messages to Olsen and others was to keep their eyes and ears open.
“A lot of stuff on Kauai is networking, people talking about what’s happening,” he said.
Earlier this month the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations announced that Kauai’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate for November remained unchanged from the previous month at 5.5 percent — one percentage point lower than a year ago in November 2012.
Similarly, the statewide seasonally adjusted rate for November stood firm at 4.4 percent, according to the release.
Nationally, the seasonally adjusted rate dropped from 7.3 percent in October to 7 percent last month.
When it comes to the unemployed, Nordmeier said people vary. Some have given up hope or become accustomed to not working. And others face mental, social, skills, certification or other issues.
“Those that want to work can find work,” he said. “However, what generally becomes difficult is finding a job that is comparable to what they were doing.”
For example, someone who was making $30 per hour as a skilled carpenter might be hesitant to take a job flipping burgers.
However, Nordmeier said getting work — any work — can prove beneficial.
“Employers today tend to want to hire those that are employed and not those who are unemployed,” he said. “You don’t want to take a job that will put you in a hole … but people who do work are promoting themselves.”
Of the topics covered during Thursday’s session, Olsen and others said they were most alarmed by a clip from a “60 Minutes” episode about the long-term unemployed.
The episode touches on a new wave of discrimination in which employers post job advertisements and disclose their unwillingness to hire someone who is not already employed.
“Fortunately, we don’t have that happening here in the state of Hawaii,” Longmore told the group.
“Give it a year,” one man responded. “Things always tend to catch up to Hawaii a little later than the states. If it’s happening (on the Mainland) it’s going to happen here.”
While he has never encountered such discrimination personally, Olsen described it as “insane” — just one more way to “fall through the cracks.”
“If I see that in the paper I’m going to call and tell them off just for putting that on their ad,” he said. “It’s a negative trend.”
Randy Francisco, president of the Kauai Chamber of Commerce, said that as Kauai’s jobless rate has continued to gradually decrease and improve over the last few years, it has provided opportunities for businesses to continue to adjust and reposition their strategies and policies.
“Kauai’s economy experienced an acceleration in our unemployment rate zooming from the very historical low of about 2.2 – 2.5 percent in 2007/early-2008 to about 8 percent during the Great Recession,” Francisco wrote in an email.
During that cycle, he said local businesses made sure employees received the necessary training to strengthen and improve their customer service and communication skills, gained a better understanding of the business goals and vision, created a technology driven and innovative workforce environment and strengthened existing and new business relationships — both on- and off-island.
Statewide, there were 622,450 employed and 29,000 unemployed in Hawaii last month, for a seasonally adjusted labor force of 651,400, according to the DLIR release.
In December 2010, the state jobless rate was 6.8 percent.
Earlier this month, the DLIR announced that unemployment insurance tax rates for 2014 will be reduced by an average of 35 percent, resulting in employers paying $130 million less in taxes, or an average of $300 less per employee.