/Dream jobs Despite politicians’ rhetoric about the economy, the reality for many working-class Mississippians is that finding stable, good-paying work is hard

Dream jobs Despite politicians’ rhetoric about the economy, the reality for many working-class Mississippians is that finding stable, good-paying work is hard

White has visited the center at the least once per week for the past eight months, since she lost her job in summer 2019. She had to submit documentation about her job search to the state unemployment agency. This was her third audit. According to the state employment agency, White was one 78,000 Mississippians searching for work at that time. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 55,000 job openings were created in the first half of 2019. This is still far from the number needed for all job seekers. White applied for numerous jobs, including at Jackson-area clothing stores. Retail salespeople in Mississippi make a median hourly salary of $10.52. This is far lower than White’s $19 at her previous job. She was not offered a job. White asked, “They claim that you have good qualifications. So why are they not calling me to work?” Mississippi leaders have long suggested in political speeches, campaign materials, and radio ads that it is easy to find a good-paying job. Mississippi Today spent several months talking with job seekers at the state’s various job centers. They also analyzed approximately 1,000,000 data points and scraped data from the state’s job board. Conclusion: Many Mississippians find it difficult to find a job that pays a decent living wage. The state’s unemployment rate fell to 4.8 percent in 2018, a continuation of a national trend. However, Mississippi has experienced slower job growth than any other state since the recession. In 2019, the unemployment rate rose to over 5 percent. The state’s overall labor force is also smaller than it was in the 2000s. This has led to the lowest labor participation rates in decades. The benefits of a growing economy have barely reached Mississippi. Private employees in Mississippi are now earning $30 per week more in inflation-adjusted earnings than they were a decade ago. Since Mississippi Works was launched in 2005, the state’s job search phone app has been used by over 500,000 people. Phil Bryant was praised often. Bryant was often praised. He said, “I assure you that this website works.” One thing is the number of job opportunities on the state’s website jobs board. This version exists in all 50 US states. It is not easy to find one, let alone one that pays living wages. The median salary for positions on this website was below $26,000 for a family with four children, and it was that low for July, August, and October. There were more job openings than people searching for work in all of Mississippi’s five counties in July. On the national level, unemployed people are outnumbering those with open positions. Gov. Tate Reeves, who was elected lieutenant governor and praised Mississippi’s job-friendly environment, continued where Bryant left off by praising the state’s jobs program as well as the 50,000 job opportunities on its website. Reeves stated in September that while there aren’t many people looking for work, the state has a lot available. White was employed at a collection agency for medical debts for 19 years. White, a single mother of two children, earned a $40,000 per year, which is close to the living wage for a family that size. Her collection performance suffered in 2018, when she was moved from Jackson hospitals’ delinquent accounts management to Greenwood Leflore Hospital. This hospital is in an area where nearly two-in-five people are living in poverty. She claimed that she was trying to collect money on people with disabilities, many of whom couldn’t afford it. She was fired later that year for not meeting her goals. However, she didn’t receive any severance. White was on the job by Monday and didn’t waste any time. White, whose first job after high school was at a YMCA in her hometown, used the local job center many decades before. White had not been a job seeker in 21st-century, when automated email responses and websites replaced printed job advertisements and phone calls from hiring managers. White stated, “That’s when all the surprises were found.” Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today Report For America In order to reach the Jackson Workforce Investment Network Job Center (WIN), one of 45 federally-funded resource centers in the state, a job seeker must first travel to the northernmost section of the city, then continue south on I-55’s Frontage Road. The building is isolated and unreachable from a nearby neighborhood. It is just beyond a cluster of yellow self-storage units that are separated by a barbedwire fence. The center’s interior features include a large whiteboard that lists “HOT JOB” opportunities on Mississippi Works website. This includes caregiver, custodians, janitors, front desk staff, security officers, and poultry workers. This website allows workers to electronically apply for unemployment benefits. It is a federal program that was established under the 1935 Social Security Act, and is administered by the states. As users scroll through job listings, the HP desktop computers lined up along the center’s wall slowly fill up. The sign affixed to the wall behind the monitors states, “COMPUTER USAGE IS LIMITED.” TIME LIMIT 30 minutes TO JOB SEARCH AND MDES SITUATIONS White was given a piece of paper that contained instructions for how to log in, create passwords, and create a Mississippi Works profile. White stated, “You’re on you own.” Under the Wagner-Peyser Act 1933, the federal government created a network for employment offices and labor exchange service, including jobs banks. According to W.E.’s 2018 report, the funding for this program has not changed over time, even though these services and public policies have evolved. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, almost 70% of Mississippi’s state-assisted job-seekers in 2017 were black, compared to the 38 percent of Mississippi’s black population. More than one-fourth of those were classified as low-income. In 2009, the state’s decades-old jobs data was made available online through a program called “WINGS”. Gov. Bryant changed the name of the program to Mississippi Works and launched a mobile version in 2014. Bryant’s workforce initiative is the same name as the app. He also gave $50 million over 10 year to worker training. Laurie Smith, a former director of State Workforce Investment Board, and a top Bryant aide testified before Congress in 2018. She said that Mississippi Works “helps people in low-skill jobs to opportunity occupations.” However, the success rates of job-match programs vary from one state to the next, as local economies and population needs differ. According to Labor Department data, the public labor exchange program serves approximately 4 percent of Mississippi’s annual population. This compares with nearly 13 percent in Wyoming, and just 1 percent in Connecticut. For the percentage of people entering the workforce and staying there, the state is performing better than the national average. However, it ranks last in terms of earnings for those people — $1,700 per month in 2015, compared to $3,300 in Illinois. Mississippi leaders insist that there is no shortage of “good jobs,” those earning at least $50,000 for people who don’t hold a four year degree. Officials incorrectly portrayed Mississippi as a leader in the development of these jobs. These opportunities are not available on the Mississippi Works website, where the state directs people to those who have less family resources or built-in networks to locate them. Only 2 percent of Mississippi Works job listings had advertised salaries of more than $50,000. The actual pay of two-thirds (33%) of the Mississippi Works job listings didn’t specify, but employers who did list their wages said they paid about $23,500 or $11.50 per hour. “Wage is very important for us. It has always been,” Allison Beasley (workforce development director, Southern Mississippi Planning and Development District), stated during an April presentation to the State Workforce Investment Board. She stated that OJT (on-the-job training) is not funded if a job pays $12 and more. “We don’t want to force people into poverty.” Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today Report For America Mary White started to collect unemployment benefits within a few weeks after losing her job. However, she struggled to keep her head above water. Mississippi has the lowest maximum unemployment checks in the country, at $235 per week. Based on a 40-hour week, the check is less than $6 an hour and expires after 26 weeks. Massachusetts offers more than three times the maximum unemployment benefit. White spoke out about Mississippi’s unemployment policies, saying that she believed they were designed to allow people to suffer. White’s unemployment pay was barely enough to cover her mortgage after taxes. Her house was saved from foreclosure when she signed up for Home Saver. This $150 million federally funded program pays mortgages to Mississippi homeowners who are unemployed or underemployed for a maximum of two years. This year, the program is closing and no applications are being accepted. White was able to pay her housing, but she also had to make payments for electricity, gas and water, groceries, car payments, and gasoline to get to the job center and interview. White paid only a portion of her bills to keep her services running. She often relied on friends and family to cover the gaps. White was only eligible for $15 per month in food aid. White, a job seeker, must complete three job searches and submit at least one job application each week to be eligible for unemployment benefits. A search is simply clicking on an online listing. The process can be daunting for people who have never used computers before. Many job center clients don’t have an email address, and they spend hours searching the internet. Job seekers will find a job opening that interests them and write down the ID number. Then they give it to an employee at the center, who will enter a referral in the electronic database. White stated that job center advisors from her youth had better relationships and networks with local employers. White stated that online filing is a time-waster and that it’s a waste of effort. “All things are done online, and they (employers), don’t get a chance to see you face to go along with the name. That makes it a waste of time.” White said. Some jobs, like the one for Dollar General’s high-turnover positions, don’t have an expiration date. This is because employers continue to accept applications. The state boasts a function on its website that notifies job seekers when there is a position available in their field. Mississippi Today reported that a Mississippi Today reporter signed up for the service but did not receive any notifications within six months. Mississippi Today discovered that the website contains outdated or incorrect information. One Mississippi Today reporter saw a job center employee redirect clients away from the state’s website. We found that most job seekers prefer to use Indeed.com rather than state-owned sites. A public, free job bank is an advantage to job seekers, according to Demetra Nightingale (an Urban Institute fellow) but it can only be a benefit if the employers are willing to accept multiple applications for each job. The website will only be removed if one of these is met. Our analysis shows that about 10 to 15% of the open positions are older than one year. Hari Cohly was a former biology professor and patent holder. He visited the job centre weekly while applying for unemployment benefits. He spent hours on Mississippi Works searching for an associate professor job, scrolling through the dozens of sales associate jobs that appeared in his search. “When you type ‘professor’, nothing comes up. From 12 o’clock to 5 o’clock, I’m there. Cohly stated that he has achieved nothing. Cohly stated that he had read 200 ads. But none of them were relevant to what he wanted. The search bar prompts users “type a keyword and find your Mississippi dream job.” However, many job seekers feel the website’s job listings are low-skilled jobs with little career potential. According to Mississippi Today, the most popular jobs on the website are meat cutters, farmhands, and retail supervisors. Mississippi has very few job opportunities for someone with Cohly’s qualifications. These include a doctorate of microbiology. Sometimes, WIN Job Center staff will advise clients to find workarounds for their weekly certifications. Mississippi Today saw one advisor instruct Cohly record each job listing that he clicked. This included a direct care job at a nursing facility that he wasn’t seriously considering. Cohly was told by the job counselor that the employer didn’t accept applications. However, this wasn’t true in this instance. The website disclaimer says that providing false information is illegal. While private job search engines may be more user-friendly than state’s, many workers still face technological barriers. Captoria Tatum’s job search was halted by an internet browser popup that covered her login button at Indeed.com. She didn’t know how she could close it. In the year that had passed since her job as an assistant at Jackson Beauty Salon, Tatum, 66, had unsuccessfully applied to at least 100 online jobs. Tatum continues to visit the WIN Job Center six months later looking for work. “I don’t like how I’m treated when I come in. She said that it was just condescending attitudes. “Nobody can help you,” Tatum, White, and Cohly are among the “more that 200,000 job seekers” who “each and every year search for and connect with jobs through Mississippi Works,” according the Mississippi Economy Scorecard, which was produced by NSPARC and cited data from the Mississippi Department of Employment Security. When asked for data to support the claim, Employment Security officials denied that the document was available. According to the agency’s 2018 annual report, 185,00 people registered on Mississippi Works in 2018. 130,000 of these were staff-assisted. This information was not included in the agency’s latest annual report for 2019, which was published in January. NSPARC representatives and university spokespersons have not responded to multiple requests for comment. Employment Security declined to interview for this story on the record. Bryant and Reeves didn’t respond to interviews requests. Because the U.S. Department of Labor doesn’t require it, the state cannot track how many people use the Mississippi Works app to find work. This makes it difficult for the state to assess the product’s effectiveness. The tool has not been reported on by any state watchdog agency such as the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure review. According to the agency’s annual reports, the state’s job-training partners (mostly community colleges) have seen their number drop by half in recent years to 1,297 in 2018. The 2019 report does not include this data. Mississippi has targeted middle and high school students to address the changing workforce needs. They encourage training in skilled trades to replace college. Oc
Tober saw the launch of Mississippi Works Magazine, an educational magazine about the labor market. It will be distributed to students throughout the state. Mississippi Today’s workforce development chair, Rep. Donnie Bell (R-Fulton), stated that all people seeking employment have the responsibility of learning skills that will make them marketable and employable. “My focus in Mississippi’s workforce is on the educational and skills needed to break the poverty cycle.” However, Employment Security officials say that adults who do not have these skills will find work wherever they go. “Those who don’t have certain skills will find that any job is good. “It’s a very great job,” Dianne Bell, spokesperson for the department, said to Mississippi Today last summer at a job fair. They are able to get a job and become independent if they do. We have never discounted any job, no matter how small or large, Dollar General or Continental Tire. Laurie Smith explained that Mississippi Works “links you directly to the community college where the training you need” if a Mississippi Works user is not qualified for a higher-skilled job that could provide a living wage. In October, President Donald Trump appointed Smith to head the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau. He cited her participation in the implementation of the Mississippi Works app. However, a detailed review of the website shows that this function is not available. Instead, the notification sent to users simply states, “So Sorry. This job is not available to you. “See below to learn why.” The agency didn’t respond to emails asking about automatic referrals. White stated that the WIN job center did not provide any job opportunities for her. White found two modestly-paying jobs through word of mouth or an in-person job fair. Due to her health issues, she couldn’t keep the job as a meatpacker. This requires workers to work long hours and averages $12.23 per hour. In December, she found full-time work. White stated that after a year and half without steady work, it will likely take a while for her to get things back the way they were. “I don’t know if it will ever come back.” *With the exception of 517 open positions that didn’t contain sufficient location information to determine which County they were in. Learn more about our methodology. **This sign was taken down shortly after Mississippi Today posted photos of it on social networks. You can read Mississippi Today’s reporting methodology here and here.