June 10, 2011 - Of the more than 2.1 million jobless Californians, one out of three has been unemployed for a year or more, according to the latest figures from the state Employment Development Department.
And as joblessness drags on, unemployment checks run out. About 1.1 million people in the state currently receive jobless benefits, which averaged $291 a week in April. But as of this week, more than 439,000 Californians had exhausted all their benefits – up to 99 weeks.
How many of these "99ers" have gone on to find work is unknown. But for many in the state, where April's 11.9 percent jobless rate was the second highest in the nation, unemployment lingers.
Such is the case for Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, who ran out of jobless benefits in January. Her last job, as a part-time barista at a coffee shop, ended in July 2009. She has not had any clinical work since May 2008.
"Because my skills are somewhat specialized, the longer that I'm out of work, the harder it is for me to go back to work," said Poinsett, who wants to use her clinical skills and advocate for families with special needs children. "What my challenge is right now is how do I reinvent my career? … I feel like I'm in this kind of vicious cycle of how do I get employed?"
In 2006, Poinsett closed her private medical practice, put her house on the market and joined a community health clinic. Two weeks later, she said, her young son had the first of many psychotic breaks. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and he needed help.
"That just kind of created that total storm,” she said. "It’s like all the things that could go wrong have gone wrong."
Poinsett moved to Sonoma County, where her son is able to receive mental health services for severe emotional needs. But she struggled to find and hold on to even part-time employment while she helped her son.
Unable to work early mornings at the coffee shop because she had to take her son to school, Poinsett could log only a handful of hours each week. She has applied for countless openings at community health centers but never makes it past the first or second interview, she said.
At her local Employment Development Department office, Poinsett, who is older than 50, said employees tell her she's too educated for work training programs.
"I walked in being told things like, 'You're a doctor, why are you here?' " she said. "People kind of reach a point around you – they kind of have this compassion fatigue. 'Can you get on with it? Why aren't you working?' "
For Poinsett, such sentiments are what differentiate short- and long-term unemployment.
"It's led to a real level of sadness and depression that I've really had to work through," she said. "The whole idea of unemployment has disappeared from the dialogue … but people are still working through these things. It's like we've become invisible."
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