by Scott Longaker
The chorus of jobs, jobs, jobs that comes from the White House as of late seems to be ringing hollow in Duluth. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics puts preliminary reports of January’s unemployment rate in Duluth at 6.7 percent.
That’s up more than 2 percentage points since October.
While such a jump could be due to a variety of factors — one factor could be that those looking for work may be facing barriers keeping them from work.
Daniel Stanton is one of those who has trouble finding work.
“My wife and I only own one car, which she uses to take our kids to and from school, daycare, and other things they are involved in,” he said. “So I either need to work on the bus line or take a cab to work.”
Stanton also explained that those options severely limit his choice in finding work.
“Most the jobs I can get to on the bus pay no more than $10 per hour with no benefits,” he said. “Making that much we still need to rely on different assistance programs, there is no future there.”
Instead Stanton found a job outside of the bus line, but must rely on rides from co-workers or pay for a ride service that operates under the table — which makes Stanton nervous that it could disappear any time.
“Its a risk worth taking,” he said. “At the job I have now I have already been considered for a small promotion and it comes with benefits, which my family and I need.”
Betsy Harmon, regional manager for Minnesota’s Department of Employment & Economic Development says some of those barriers are real.
Specifically the barrier of transportation to and from work.
“A lot of these jobs are where the bus doesn’t go,” she said referring to some of few manufacturing and factory jobs in the area. Cirrus Aircraft is one major employer that lies outside the bus routes.
While plenty of jobs exist in Duluth’s healthcare industry most require specialized training and licensing — two requirements that may not be easy to obtain for someone who has experienced long-term unemployment.
Another barrier that stands in the way for many seeking employment in healthcare is the presence of a criminal record. According to Harmon, a criminal record would prevent a person’s ability to work in healthcare.
“We do offer vocational rehab,” she said. “But criminal records can be a problem.”
The City of Duluth has instituted a new policy as reported in the Duluth News Tribune. The policy aims to ease at least one barrier people face — some entry level positions in the city’s utility department will no longer require a valid driver’s license for employment. Instead, the new policy will allow a person to work with the goal of obtaining a valid license within one year.
The new policy will also apply to some seasonal workers the city employs.
While this new policy may open up a few doors, many will remain closed unless more is done, and according to Harmon it needs to be done by those doing the hiring.
“Talk to businesses,” she said. “It’s not just up to government — they need to — talk to some businesses.”