Minnesota's unemployment rate fell to 7.3 percent in September and there's a consensus among leading economists that the country has emerged from the longest, deepest recession in decades. But employers continue to shed jobs and people looking for work far outnumber the openings available, and that means more struggle for people who are already unemployed.
At a state-run job center in St. Paul, dozens of people occupy a row of computer terminals, quietly poring over job listings. Staff member Yvonne Simmons said signing up for unemployment is the first thing on the minds of most of the newly jobless she sees.
"People come in and talk about the possibility of being evicted or losing their home, not being able to pay their rent or put food on the table," she said. "It's getting to a critical state right now."
These days, Simmons is seeing more critical situations, and a lot more people.
As at other job centers around the state, demand for help here is up sharply. The St. Paul Workforce Center is serving about 25 percent more jobseekers now than it was before the meltdown last fall. Other centers have seen increases topping 50 percent compared to last year.
The Center's Luis Brown-Pena said the numbers are up, not just because of layoffs, but because job seekers are also staying unemployed a lot longer.
“It's getting to a critical state right now.”Yvonne Simmons, Workforce staff member
"There are more people unemployed for one job so someone that was taking, let's say three months to get a job, now is taking twice the amount of time to get a job," Brown-Pena said.
Jerry Coleman was at the Workforce Center looking for work in a warehouse. He has been unemployed for more than a year and is broke and getting frustrated. But he said he's accepted that it may just take a while longer before he's back to work.
"I'm not discouraged, but it's just the economy is screwed up right about now. I'm hopeful," he said.
But hope is harder to come by the longer you're out of work. "You try not to let it get you down," said Catina Davis, a single mom in Oakdale.
Davis lost her job as a caseworker for disabled people more than a year ago, and cashed her last unemployment check in September. That makes her one of as many as 1,000 people a week in Minnesota who are exhausting their unemployment benefits.
Davis said her old job used to pay about $17 an hour, but she's now willing to take a job for minimum wage. But, she said, nobody is hiring.
"They say we do want to hire, but right now we don't have the funds to hire," she said. "That is what a lot of people say."
Davis just missed her first life insurance payment and said the stress is keeping her up nights. Last week, she rushed to the emergency room with chest pains, which the doctors blamed on stress, not a heart attack. Her doctor prescribed medication to deal with her stress-related ailments, but she can't afford to fill them. Davis said her situation makes her understand the desperation that pushes people past the breaking point.
"I had seen on the news where that man had killed his wife and his kids and himself," she said. "This economy, it would make you do something like that."
Davis recently wrote a letter to the White House urging President Obama to extend unemployment benefits to the jobless in all 50 states.
She might get her wish.
Congress is considering another extension. A measure under consideration in the Senate would provide a 14-week extension to all states, regardless of the unemployment rate. Another part of the Senate proposal would give extra benefits to states with an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent or higher. That threshold also holds for a House proposal to extend benefits.
Either way, Minnesotans will likely lose a 7-week extension already in place because the state's jobless rate fell again in September.
For her part, Davis isn't giving up yet. She still resumes her job hunt every day after her kids head off to school.