Dec 31, 2008 Ami Olson Uncategorized
For months you have been hearing about the failing economy but it never really seemed to affect you personally — until you find that ominous pink slip in your paycheck.
Ok, you’ve lost your job. Now what?
Welcome to the world of the unemployed. You are not alone — the New York State Department of Labor reported the state unemployment rate as 5.7 percent in October — up nearly a whole percent since October 2007. Nationally, unemployment has skyrocketed from 4.8 percent in October 2007 to 6.5 percent in October 2008.
Chris Perham, representing the Department of Labor, said the volume of people calling the office for unemployment benefits – either to file their first claim or re-file for continued benefits – is too much for the current staff and phone line.
“Unemployment was not that high in the recent past, and the number of staff we’re funded by the federal government is determined by the unemployment rate,” Perham said. Meaning, while the unemployment rate surged, in-office staff has yet to catch up.
Even if your job is currently secure, it couldn’t hurt to know what your options will be if your employment situation suddenly changes. And the more prepared you are for that possibility, the easier the process will be and the sooner you will begin receiving benefits.
Perham said, with the current situation, a first-time filer who completes an application with all of the required information would probably be waiting three weeks for their first benefit.
The DoL maze
Unemployment insurance benefits are what most people commonly refer to as “unemployment” – a portion of your former income, paid to you weekly by the state.
The process of qualifying and applying for benefits can seem overwhelming, but the bottom line is, if you were employed in New York state within the last 18 months and unwillingly lost your job, but are willing and able to work, you are probably eligible for benefits, according to the labor department Web site.
Syracuse resident Martha Williams, 58, was laid off in the spring from the large Italian cheese company Consorzio Parmigiano-Reggiano, and has been collecting unemployment benefits for eight months. As soon as she got the news, she logged onto the Department of Labor Web site and began the process of applying for benefits, she said, and she recommends the process to others in her situation.
Filing the initial claim for benefits and certifying – a weekly check-in process with the department – can both be completed online, any time of day.
In addition to the weekly certifying process, (during which a person receiving benefits verifies whether they are still unemployed, or if they had worked during that week), the department periodically selects clients at random and requires proof that they are actively seeking employment. Williams said several times she received in the mail a form asking for the names and contact information for companies she had applied for positions with, though in recent months she has not been selected to prove her efforts.
Maybe the department is so inundated with new clients, they have not had time to send out the forms, Williams mused.
Dialing for dollars
So, once applicants provide the required information – identity, employment and wage history, tax information – and wait for their claim to be processed, they either receive benefits in via direct deposit to a bank account or on a debit card. That sounds easy enough – what’s the catch?
“It’s not enough to get by,” Williams said simply. Even if you scale back, unemployment benefits do not cover typical expenses, and benefits are pared down for each day of part-time work a client performs, she added.
Perham said the dollar amount formulated for each person receiving benefits is tailored to them through calculations based on how much they were earning for four quarters prior to their becoming unemployed.
“It’s based on a calculation that’s historical, it doesn’t go up or down depending on where you live, it’s strictly based on your earning capacity,” Perham said.
Williams emphasized her point – that calculation does not take into account whether you own your home or make mortgage or rent payments, or other debt or expenses you might have.
Two other expenses recently unemployed people will likely face: insurance and taxes. Williams and Perham both noted the importance of COBRA insurance, which allows employees to continue coverage for a period of time under their employer’s health insurance after being laid off, for the same cost.
Williams also suggested others choose to have taxes deducted from unemployment benefits, as it is taxed as any other source of income and could cause financial disruption for the unemployed at tax time.
Other open doors
Perham said the first thing she tells people who find themselves unemployed is to take a deep breath, and remember they are not the first person to have this happen to them.
“Your new job is to find a job,” she tells them.
But what if finding a job is not necessarily what you want to do?
Finding yourself suddenly jobless can be frightening and devastating – but it is also an opportunity to reassess your career and life goals and straighten your path, if necessary.
Maybe you used to daydream about owning your own business, but didn’t dare take the plunge while you were securely employed. Or you had dreams of higher education, but could not sacrifice your salary to pay thousands of dollars in tuition.
Well, here is your chance to rethink those other plans.
Katherine Perry, director of admission at Onondaga Community College, said some companies and employers hold career fairs for employees soon to be axed, or even provide money for them to enroll in training or certification programs after a lay off.
For entrepreneurial spirits, accelerated business programs are often geared toward adults with experience in the workforce, looking to change careers or start their own business after losing a job.
CNY Works, located at 443 North Franklin St., serves as a one-stop career center and offers free training and workshops from computer programs and typing to resume writing and job interviews.
But if you are already receiving unemployment benefits, be aware that enrolling in a part-time or full-time program at a college or university could affect your benefits, and be sure to disclose your employment information with financial aid officers.
Going back to school or directly into the work force not for you?
Consider the military. Whether a career in the armed forces or a short-term service suits you, training, education, discipline and excellent benefits are part of the package.
Along a similar vein, stints with volunteer organizations such as the Peace Corps and Americorps won’t do much for your pension or savings account, but they do provide travel, time off from the traditional nine to five, an excellent resume builder and a tangible impact on other lives you won’t find in many other fields.
Whether you are looking to jump right back into the job market or exploring other options, take the time to analyze your skill set and what fields they are best suited for — you may surprise yourself.
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