Idaho’s economic picture has begun to brighten, but the state has yet to make up the jobs it lost in the downturn. Many in Idaho have watched their months of unemployment add up. Single mom Kelly Barker is one of them. She just reached an anniversary she’d rather not observe. It has now been a full year since she lost her job. After several months of temp work, Barker is back to the full-time job search, and back to unemployment benefits. This is the latest report in our “Jobless In Idaho” series.
It’s 8:30 in the morning and Kelly Barker is starting this day the way she starts most weekdays: at her desk with a cup of coffee, and a list of job leads. “Let’s see,” she says, pulling one up on her computer screen. “Office administrator…”
She’s following up on new job postings at the Idaho Department of Labor’s website. “Relevant experience,” she reads. “Four plus years. I have that. Moderate to advanced Microsoft Office skills, I would have that.”
She also has experience with filing and record keeping. Truthfully, Barker is probably overqualified for this job. She has a bachelor’s degree and a lot of work experience. But this posting sounds promising. “So!” she says. “Competitive salary and benefits, health insurance and retirement plan. So, that would definitely be a yes.”
In the end, of the nine jobs on Barker’s list, only two seem like possibilities. Next, she’ll do research, and tailor her resume and cover letter. She’ll send off the applications with fingers crossed. Barker is down to the wire. She has just ten weeks of unemployment insurance benefits left. “I don’t have a contingency plan,” she says. “You know, a mortgage payment – you’d have to have a lot of savings to sustain you for a long period of time, and I don’t. So, I have ten weeks to find a job. Period.”
The economy is trending in her favor. In March, Idaho’s unemployment rate dropped below the 8 percent mark for the first time in years, falling to 7.9 percent. That’s good news. But Department of Labor spokesman Bob Fick says there’s also no way around this fact: “People are still desperate,” he says. “There’s no question about that.”
Idaho’s economy is creating jobs, Fick says. It’s just that a daunting number of people are out there searching for them. “There’s still over 60,000 people looking for work and over 30,000 people who have part-time jobs that want full-time jobs,” Fick explains. “You add another 3,000 or 4,000 people who’ve just given up because they don’t have any optimism about finding work, and you’re pushing 100,000 people out there looking for jobs.”
That’s 100,000 people looking, all hoping to land one of the roughly 20,000 jobs listed each month. In other words, the odds are tough. HR representative Valerie Alley knows this well. “We see talented, talented people’s resumes out there,” she says. “Do we have an opening for them all? No.”
Alley works for Boise, Inc., formerly a part of the wood products company Boise Cascade. Her position gives her insight into the local job market. She says every time she posts a job, the response is immediate. She gets hundreds of resumes for some positions. She says the market seems just as competitive now as it was months ago. “I don’t think it has changed,” she says. “The quality of the resumes is still very high, the quantity is still very high. It’s hard for the candidates, because it’s just a tough market. And I feel for them.”
Kelly Barker is well-versed in the challenges of this job market and in the financial challenges of unemployment. Without a steady paycheck, she’s been doing a lot of making do. Unemployment insurance is just enough to cover her mortgage and utilities, she says. The daily food budget for herself and her eight-year-old daughter is dictated by their food stamp allowance. When Barker drives somewhere, she plans trips carefully to economize on gas. She’s growing vegetables in the backyard, and has the cheapest cell phone plan she can get. Under constant financial pressure, Barker says, there are moments when she falls apart.
“I remember calling my dad, bawling,” she recalls. “And saying – I am so tired! I can’t – I’m tired of doing this! I’m just tired! And I kept repeating that.”
Barker sighs and shakes her head. Those feelings are just a reality of unemployment, she says. But she does her best to beat them back and push forward. “I mean, a job isn’t going to come to me,” she says. “I’ve got to keep forging on. I’ve got to trust that if I’m putting forth the effort, something will come.”
In this improving but still very tough economy, Barker says, this is the only thing to do. She has to keep trying, and she has to keep up hope.
The “Jobless In Idaho” series was recently awarded a regional Edward R. Murrow Award.