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I think I’ve found a potential job retraining opportunity that could suit me and make use of my previous experience in the environmental field. Our local community college has a short course this summer that would allow me to earn a Building Performance Institute Certification. This is supposed to be a growing field with an increase in jobs. It costs $1600 in tuition so I can’t actually take the course this summer as our projected expenses already outstrip my unemployment check but if they offer it in fall, or more likely next winter, I might be able to save up enough to take it.
Here’s the course description:

Train to become an energy efficiency auditor and earn your BPI Certification (Building Performance Institute) in only one week. A recent study by the California Community College’s Centers of Excellence indicates that the need for building auditors will increase by 54% over the next three years throughout South Central California. Individuals in the fields of construction, design, inspection, contracting, and utilities will want to take this new course to learn to identify the relationships among overall performance, efficiency and durability. Class participants will learn to target, diagnose, and recommend procedures to remedy inefficient building performance. Course fee includes classroom training (1 full day + 2 half-days), field training (2 half-days), course materials, study materials, BPI application fees, written exam fee and field exam fee. The written and field exams will be held on Day 4 and 5 of the course. Course fee includes classroom training (1 full day + 2 half-days), field training (2 half-days), course materials, study materials, BPI application fees, written exam fee and field exam fee. The written and field exams will be held on Day 4 and 5 of the course.

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 The April unemployment numbers came out not too long ago and provided another economic head scratching moment for those of us following the statistics. Head scratching because in April the economy added a record 290,000 jobs (yeah) and at the same time national unemployment claims rose from 9.7 to 9.9%.   Hmm, more jobs, more unemployed people?  Turns out the increase in jobs brought out people who had given up looking (and therefore were no longer counted among the unemployed despite the fact that they had no job). 

President Obama’s take – “[April’s] job numbers come as a relief to Americans who’ve found a job, but it offers, obviously, little comfort to those who are still out of work.”  The number of people unemployed in the nation stood at 15.3 million in April this year.   Counting those who have given up looking for work and part timers who would prefer to be working full time, the so-called underemployment rate rose to 17.1 % in April.

“When you look at the employment report from 20,000 feet, it’s all good numbers,” said Brian Wesbury, chief economist at First Trust in Chicago. “What happened [with the higher unemployment rate] is that people rushed back into the labor force.”

“That will slow down and we will see the unemployment rate come down. But in order for that to happen, we need job gains and we are getting that now.”

Indeed the jobless rate declined in 34 states in April. So things would seem to be looking up, right? Briefly. Then on May 20th NPR reported that number of people filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week by the largest amount in three months, saying that the surge is evidence of how volatile the job market remains, even as the economy grows.  Applications for unemployment benefits rose to 471,000 last week, up by 25,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday.

 So for us job seekers it’s a bit of a roller coaster – hopes up, hopes down.  And depending on your demographics your outlook might be colored by other factors.  For instance if you were a secretary or travel agent the opinion recently voiced by a number of economists – that some lost jobs will never come back and some out of work people may never regain their economic place in society – might send your outlook right off the cliff.  In the past few months this idea has been the subject of articles with headlines like “Lost jobs are likely not coming back;” “Jobs That Aren’t Coming Back; “ and “Even in a Recovery, Some Jobs Won’t Return;“  All of which essentially say the same thing – many of the jobs lost in the recession – in industries as varied as construction, interior design and auto manufacturing are no longer deemed necessary.  During the past few years of belt tightening companies have automated processes, out-sourced work, shifted duties and learned work arounds for laid off employees (such as having managers file their own papers, make their own coffee and book their own travel – administrative staff took a big hit, 1.7 million jobs lost).  Sorry folks, the recovery has begun and employers are thinking they’ll just keep some of those cost-savings after 2 years of penny pinching!

 Other demographics come into play for the job seeker as well.  Geographic demographics for one.  While the job market may be getting better in some parts of the country, several states – Michigan, Nevada, and California topping the list – are not seeing any significant improvement. In April California’s unemployment rate was at 12.6 percent, nearly 3 points above the national average.  The good news was that it ‘held steady’ – unchanged from March.  2.3 million Californians remain unemployed while non-farm payroll jobs increased by 14,200 in April. At that rate…well, you do the math.

Then there’s age.  Oh to be 30 again!  Although nationally the youngest workers were hardest hit by the recession, older unemployed workers are finding it harder to land a new job and are remaining unemployed longer. 

 “Things have been very tough for older jobseekers. Duration of unemployment for persons aged 55 and older has soared since the start of the recession and remains higher than for younger workers,” according to an analysis by Sara Rix of the AARP Public Policy Institute. “Those numbers do not paint a rosy picture for millions of older Americans, many of whom may never find jobs comparable to the ones they have lost since December of 2007.”

 I understand the AARP is holding job workshops to help older workers find “meaningful” employment.

Add in being a single parent with a damaged credit rating and you’ll begin to see why I’m not celebrating the economic recovery just yet.  I admit to owning a bleak outlook but not, I’m sorry to say, one I believe is unrealistic. I’ve been out of work for 10 months now- about 9 months longer than I ever expected I’d go without a job!  I apply for jobs and even interview from time to time, without landing one.  I am discouraged. I see the recovery as hope that my children may yet have opportunities but I am no longer confident about remaking my life from the ground up.

For a sobering take on the jobless recovery and what it will mean for America check out this article: “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America” in the Atlantic.

Thanks for all the comments and good ideas!  Our summer plans are slowly coming together and I’m using several of your ideas!  We signed up for the kid’s free bowling – there’s a bowling alley not to far from us that is participating.  I’m applying for a YMCA campership for my youngest 2 (both 7); and my middle daughter (9 year old) has received invitations from friends in Virginia and Seattle and I can use  my soon to expire frequent flyer miles to send her to visit for several weeks.  My oldest is playing summer league basketball and is old enough (12) to be on her own for a bit if she needs to be.  We are continuing to explore options locally and I’m continuing to apply for jobs (2 more this week- one at a Naval Base as an environmental technician and one as a forest ranger).

Someone asked if I’d let Tricia or Ben babysit – and the answer is no, nor would the kids be comfortable with that.  Tricia is disabled – in fact she’s going to have a hip replacement this summer now that her medicare insurance has come through, and both Ben and Tricia have habits that undoubtedly help them get through life (smoking, drinking and possible other substance use) but that I don’t want around the kids.

Update – As a commentor mentioned the shoe rental isn’t included in the kids bowl free, nor are adults (although for $24 you can add adults to the bowl free deal for the summer).  Shoes are $4 per person.  We signed up and it might be something we do for a special treat. 

Heard from the Y – there are no scholarships available that would help us – too many people in the same situation! Camp for 2 kids would be $900 a month with a scholarship- half my monthly income, so that is out.

At least it does when you are small.  Coming back from taking the trash to the dumpster the other day I was struck by the comparison between our neighbor’s truck, and our ‘house’.

Our house is feeling especially small these days with summer looming and the prospect of spending more time together indoors once school is out.  And it seems we will be forced to limit our outdoor activities in our patio area – a 3-foot wide concrete slab that borders the trailer.  Today the park manager told me that the owner (who sadly is not fond of children) has said we either get rid of the toys on the patio or get kicked out of the park.  So I took all the Hot Wheel track to the dumpster, and packed up the cars and my son’s Legos to take them to storage.  We will park my youngest daughter’s bike behind the trailer and the scooter and skateboard will go underneath.   The basketballs have already been banned –  they are stored in a Tupperware container under the trailer and taken out only for team practice. Bouncing them here bothers the older residents.

My son who can spend hours building fanciful Lego cars and other vehicles (along with my oldest daughter who wants to be an architect and builds equally intricate Lego houses) will be sad when they come home tonight, but if you know anything about Legos you know just how many tiny pieces are required to build these creations!  And there are so many specialized pieces –  little figures, windshields, lights, wheels, corners, stairs, windows and doors.  I freely admit the Legos were getting out of control – we have a big table next to the trailer and a couple of boxes of Legos and the kids would spread out and design and construct to their heart’s content.  And they didn’t get cleaned up and put away after each session – no one wanted to just build and dismantle – so they sat out on the table top and a few would get scattered below…  Well, I couldn’t throw them all away but we cannot keep them indoors either as we have NO counter space for Lego creations. So off to storage they go.  Heck, we have no counter space period and the one table becomes a bed nightly!  We gave up an experiment with jigsaw puzzles over Christmas vacation for this very reason – it was just too hard on everyone to take the thing apart each night and start again the next day.

What we really need is MORE space – a bigger RV with bunk beds for the kids, and a little more indoor storage, and some counter space.  I haunt the listings on craigslist and cruise by the park and sell lots in town looking for travel trailers even though I’ve hardly begun to put aside any money for such a purchase.  And I must find some free/inexpensive activities for the kids this summer so we aren’t couped up  in this tiny space for days on end.  Spring break showed me the necessity of that as during those 10 days we started out getting on each other’s nerves, and by the end were driving one another crazy. If we are forced to be together in this space for the 10 weeks of summer we will descend to the point where the majority of our  interactions will be negative.  Like overcrowded rats or the lost boys in The Lord of the Flies, our inner savages will awaken.  And if that happens…it won’t be toys on the patio that get us kicked out of the park!

We are allowed to have the table and a couple of chairs on the patio, and ‘may decorate with potted plants’ if we wish.

Box Car Kids

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