No Jobs?

Two and a half weeks ago a representative from the U.S. Census Bureau came to the council meeting to ask the councilors for ideas about how to find people willing to work. She informed the council she was having a hard time filling the more than 100 temporary positions the Census Bureau had open for people willing to knock on doors this spring to collect basic demographic information, and she was looking for any possible assistance. The council directed her to the employment office, which she said she’d already been to. They gave her a few more suggestions, but largely they had no idea.
The Census bureau website describes the jobs: “These short-term jobs offer good pay, flexible hours, paid training, and reimbursement…”
$15 per hour plus mileage for about two months starting in April. The training starts in February. That’s not bad, at least for a few months. The requirements are you have to be at least 18, a U.S. citizen, and you have to pass a written test, which the woman from the census bureau said wasn’t difficult. The website calls it, “a multiple-choice test of basic skills.”
Nevertheless, the woman said, the Bureau is having trouble finding people to fill the jobs.
That surprised me. Honestly, when she said $15 an hour on a flexible schedule several of us looked at each other and discussed car pooling. That seems like a great offer. I knock on doors all the time for work; what’s a few hours more?

It struck me as odd that these jobs would be so quickly passed over. After all the talk of jobs in the last municipal election, here are more than a hundred jobs open to almost anyone in Berlin, and they can’t fill their ranks. Is it that Berlin needs jobs, or that people want better jobs? The non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for Berlin (last updated in November 2009) is 8 percent. Considering the national rate is above 10 percent, that’s not bad. It certainly doesn’t compare to Pittsburgh (11.2 percent), Stark (11.5 percent), Colebrook (13.9 percent), Stewartstown (15.7 percent) or Stratford (18.2 percent). There’s been so much discussion about jobs, I had to wonder how dire the need is in Berlin if people aren’t coming out for these ones.
Maybe Berlin has an underemployment problem, not an unemployment problem. Maybe people don’t want to quit working for minimum wage to make double their paycheck for a couple of months. That makes more sense, but with flexible hours and the legendary Berlin work ethic that hardly explains this situation away.
I am confused. It caught me off guard to hear about these jobs remaining vacant. It seems in this economy, in this region, people would gobble up such opportunities. Are people just not hearing about them? Do they have some aversion to working for the U.S. Government? (That doesn’t make sense—people seem interested in the federal prison.) Are they the wrong kind of jobs? I know they are temporary and without benefits, but I would think when you need work what the job is wouldn’t matter. Maybe for some people it does, particularly after they are accustomed to a certain level of income.
It struck me as strange, a phenomenon worth noting. If anyone has any insights I’d love to hear them. I’ve seen how hard Berliners are willing to work, so to me it just doesn’t add up. Maybe someone can explain the arithmetic.

6 thoughts on “No Jobs?

  1. You can't stay on welfare if you have a job. Berlin's unemployment rate is probably 30% if you count the people healthy enough to work who just don't want to.That's what you get in a struggling milltown that wants to stay a struggling milltown. Berlin now has no vision for the future. Sad really.People who want to work move away. People who don't want to work move in. This is what a city with no plans for a future will keep getting. I challenge anyone to name one city in the US that would WELCOME WITH OPEN ARMS an industrial mess only a few hundred feet from DOWNTOWN. Housing prices dropped by $10,000 across the board on Monday night. Thank you Paul!(and apparently thanks are in order to god also.)Berlin NH- "Shrinking with dignity." God forbid anyone who tries to stop it.

  2. Most of the people who move to Berlin don't want to work. They want to sit on their rear end and collect welfare. They come here for the cheap rents that will only get cheaper when the biomass plant opens on the East Side. Welcome to the arm pit of NH which will only get worse with industry in downtown. Great vision Paul. You are a wonderful leader.

  3. After I wrote this post I realized unemployment figures don't include discouraged workers—people not looking for work. Like people who are underemployed they are left out of estimates, so the actual unemployment rate in Berlin is likely much higher. I looked at that 8 percent and didn't really get why it was so low. Now I do.I'd be interested in how you create an effective incentive structure to either motivate people to work or to keep them from moving to Berlin. I don't see any realistic municipal-level solution, or even a state-level solution, but it's an interesting conversation. As long as Berlin is relatively cheap people will continue to move there. Many longtime residents don't want to see the cost of living rise, which is one of the few ways to keep poor people from moving in. It's a complex problem; one I'd hesitate to blame on any local politician.

  4. Eric,I know somebody who works for the State of NH and it is an "unwritten" policy to encourage low income people from southern NH (who live on public assistance) to move to Berlin to take advantage of the cheap rents. This, in essense, allows their public assistance dollars to go further. As such, the State is actually complicit in the Berlin problem. And, you may not want to hear this, but having a noisy industrial complex on the East side of Berlin won't help the situation. So yes, if Grenier is successful in securing the Laidlaw project we can blame him for his part in helping to essentially perpetuate the problem. Of course, he doesn’t see it that way. He sees the 40 jobs, yes, but he fails to see the real negative impacts of the plant. He’s blinded by his ignorance, plain and simple. As somebody I know likes to say, his philosophy is, “Don’t confuse me with facts, I’ve already made up my mind.”

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