New effort underway to help long-term unemployed workers

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee has directed the state Employment Security Department to deploy $4 million in federal funds in new efforts to put the long-term unemployed back to work.

“To continue our economic recovery and build a Washington that works for all of us, we need to do more to help the long-term unemployed overcome the stigma and institutional challenges they face in their efforts to return to work,” said Inslee.

“Many of these workers contributed to the strength of our economy before the recession, but they’ve been shut out of the recovery and we need to turn that around,” he said.

The governor has directed Employment Security to seek proposals from local workforce development councils for new strategies to return the long-term unemployed to work as fast as possible. The effort is the result of discussions between Washington state and the U.S. Department of Labor, which included a roundtable conversation the governor hosted earlier this week with U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, Employment Security Commissioner Dale Peinecke, and workforce, business and labor voices from around the state.

The funding comes from the federal Rapid Response Program, which normally provides special services to help workers who lost their jobs due to mass layoffs at single companies. The number of mass layoffs has dropped as the economy has improved, but the number of long-term unemployed workers continues to grow.

By the end of February, more than 195,000 people in Washington state had run out of all unemployment benefits since July 2008, and at least 118,000 of them were still unemployed.

According to Employment Security data, about 60 percent of those who remain unemployed had consistent employment in the year prior to their layoffs. Many previously worked in highly skilled jobs and have college degrees.

 “There are employers all over this state who are having a hard time finding workers with the right skills and a good work ethic. Meanwhile, we have a pool of workers with skills and a strong desire to work, who want to put the Great Recession behind them,” said Peinecke.

“This is a hidden source of skilled, loyal workers for Washington’s companies,” he said.

Inslee said this new approach directs the funding where it is needed most. Employment Security will ask local workforce development councils to submit proposals by Thursday, April 17, and the contract awards will be announced by April 24.

There are 12 business-led workforce development councils across Washington state. The councils also include representatives from labor, local colleges and schools, Employment Security and other organizations involved in workforce development.


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