Spokane Journal of Business

Inslee launches new effort to trim unemployed ranks

Proposals for $4 million in funding due this month

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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee last month 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,” Inslee said in a press release announcing his action. “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.” 

The governor has directed the Employment Security Department 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 the state and the U.S. Department of Labor, which included a roundtable conversation the Governor hosted with U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, Employment Security Commissioner Dale Peinecke, and workforce, business, and labor representatives from around the state.

The funding comes from the federal Rapid Response Program, which normally provides special services to help workers who lose 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 the state had run out of all unemployment benefits since July 2008, and at least 118,000 of them still were unemployed, the Employment Security Department said. 

According to data compiled by the agency, 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,” said Employment Security Commissioner Dale Peinecke in the press release. “Meanwhile, we have a pool of workers with skills and a strong desire to work, who want to put the Great Recession behind them. This is a hidden source of skilled, loyal workers for Washington’s companies.” 

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

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