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6.1 Percent Unemployment Still 100 Percent Sucks

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BALTIMORE -- Erin Isaacs has been selling her stuff in order to make rent. She got $180 for her 40-inch TV and $300 for a small washer-dryer combo.

"Next up I need to go to my storage unit and take pictures of my stuff, and so it'll be things like probably my sofa, which is fairly new," she said. "The coffee table. Probably the power tools I've bought over the years."

The government announced Friday that the unemployment rate fell a tenth of a point in August to 6.1 percent. But to people still out of work, unemployment sucks 100 percent.

The number of long-term unemployed, those out of work longer than six months, is down to 3 million -- a million fewer than this time last year. Economists are unsure whether more of those people are finding jobs or telling the government's monthly employment survey that they've stopped looking.

The declining jobless rate doesn't impress Isaacs. "It's just more indication to me that Washington is completely out of touch with reality and that our country is run by corporations and not our government," she said.

Isaacs, 40, has been out of work since last October, when the health insurance company where she'd spent 14 years reduced its staff. At first, it wasn't so bad. But since then, she's downsized to a smaller apartment here and has had only one interview.

"The stress of being unemployed, of not knowing if I'm going to make the rent, if I'm going to be able to buy groceries -- it is really overwhelming," she said.

One reason the lower unemployment rate makes joblessness more difficult is that sympathetic government policies have gone away. In a few weeks, Isaacs will run out of unemployment insurance. (She would have run out much earlier, but a good severance package delayed the start of her six-month claim.)

If Isaacs had been laid off in 2009, she would have been eligible for another year's worth of benefits paid by the federal government. Congress dropped the extra compensation in December partly because of the declining unemployment rate.

Since losing her job as an appeals specialist, Isaacs has sought similar work. Eventually, she expanded her search to include any job with a chair. She hasn't branched out to retail or food service work, she said, because of leg injuries that make it painful to stand for more than four hours straight.

A major obstacle is that she didn't finish college, a fact she can't fudge in online job application forms -- and pretty much every application is online. She said she's looked into finishing school, but can't get anyone to co-sign for a student loan.

"My friends and family are either already co-signing loans for their own children, or will be very soon," she said.

Though there are fewer people searching for available jobs, in some ways the unemployment experience today is worse than it was when the national unemployment rate peaked at 10 percent in 2009. It can be more isolating than before, since there are fewer people going through it.

"Your friends that are still employed, you suddenly have all this time during the day and you can't talk to your friends because they're working and you know they need their jobs as much as you needed [yours]," Isaacs said. "You can't really afford to go out with them in the evening, so you spend a lot of time at home. I'm an introvert really bad anyways, and even I'm at the point I want to go out and talk to people."

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