His journey has not been easy.
“Being on unemployment was terrible,” Haney said. “The first winter after I got laid off … I spent part of the winter without heat for a while. It was gut-wrenching at the time when I didn’t know how I was going to pay for gas or my next class — it’s hard to concentrate on class when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from.”
High unemployment in Calhoun County and across the state has hurt many people over the last two years — a situation that some experts expect will last several more years. But those same experts also agree that there are jobs still available now, but mainly to those with sufficient education.
Haney, of Piedmont, is in the second year of his radiologic technology degree at Gadsden State Community College, off unemployment after two years and now working full time as a pharmacy technician.
“Things are still tense, but people in my same situation are now asking for my advice and teachers are complimenting me for my hard work … that’s what keeps me pressing on and pushing harder, to try to provide an example for others.”
To Robert Robicheaux, chairman of the department of marketing, industrial distribution and economics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, education is vital to obtaining a job, particularly in the current economic climate.
“Education pays … that’s pretty clear,” Robicheaux said. “Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that (for) anybody with an associate’s degree or higher, the unemployment rate is lower. The higher rates of unemployment are among those who have just a high school degree or less.”
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010 the annual unemployment rate was 8.2 percent nationwide. However, for those in the population with just a high school diploma, the annual average unemployment rate was 10.3 percent. In contrast, those with a bachelor’s degree had an average unemployment rate of 5.4 percent and those with a master’s degree had a 4 percent average unemployment rate.
Those with more education also made more money on average last year.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that people with just a high school diploma earned $626 on average each week in 2010, while those with a bachelor’s degree earned an average $1,038 each week. A person with a master’s degree earned $1,272 on average each week.
Robicheaux said the days of when a person could just walk into a business and get a job pushing a broom are about over.
“By 21st century standards, if you don’t have at least a high school diploma, no math skills, you’re almost unemployable,” Robicheaux said.
Alabama Department of Industrial Relations indicates that as of July, Calhoun County and the state both have a 10 percent average unemployment rate. The rates have increased fairly steadily since the nation’s housing market collapsed in 2008, followed swiftly by an economic recession. Calhoun County’s annual average unemployment rate in 2007 was 3.4 percent, followed by 5 percent in 2008, 9.8 percent in 2009 and 9.5 percent in 2010.
The current high unemployment numbers are not expected to drop significantly anytime soon, said Ahmad Ijaz, director of economic forecasting for the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama.
Ijaz said that due to the current caution on the part of many companies, as well as other factors, unemployment rates in the state likely will not drop down near pre-recession levels for another three or four years.
Robicheaux agreed with Ijaz about the slow recovery of employment in the state.
“It’s conceivable it may take us years to get the unemployment rate down to something more normal like 5 percent,” he said.
Ijaz added that the effect of high unemployment will hurt the state for many years to come.
“Unemployment has a direct impact on sales and income taxes,” Ijaz said. “A person not earning cannot buy things and pay taxes.”
However, the rate might not be quite as high in Alabama right now if more people had better education, Robicheaux said.
“Jobs are going unfulfilled because we have too many uneducated people,” he said.
A recent report released by the National Skills Coalition shows that 51 percent of all jobs in the South fall into the “middle skills” category — jobs requiring education beyond high school but less than a four-year degree — and that many of those jobs are being unfulfilled because of a lack of education among the available population.
Kent Brown, assistant general manager of Union Foundry in Anniston, said his business has had trouble in the past with filling middle-skills jobs.
“We always struggle with finding electricians and maintenance workers,” Brown said. “When things pick up, it’s hard to find skilled workers. When we had the (federal) stimulus, it was difficult to bring a lot of people in.”
The Honda manufacturing plant in Lincoln, however, has never had too much trouble finding skilled workers.
“Honda Manufacturing of Alabama is fortunate that we have been able to find a stable, high-quality and skilled workforce in a wide range of disciplines, ranging from production and manufacturing to engineering and support professionals,” said Honda spokesman Mark Morrison. “Honda has worked with Alabama’s two-year college system to develop training classes that have enhanced the skills of our equipment service and maintenance associates. This type of customized, innovative training has allowed us to grow our maintenance associates from within the company.”
Gadsden State works with companies around the state and provides training to help students apply for the jobs available, said Cheryl Cephus-Vickers, director of counseling in the office of career services at the community college.
Cephus-Vickers said her office has seen a significant uptick in visitors in the last couple of years.
“Yes, there are more people coming through our office and more people who have been through the workforce and are trying to reframe, retool and remarket themselves,” Cephus-Vickers.”
She said the career services center helps students obtain jobs by offering seminars on developing resumes, how to do job interviews and how to search for jobs as effectively as possible. The center also hosts several employment opportunity fairs for students and anyone else in the community each year.
“Employers come on campus and talk about openings they have,” Cephus-Vickers said. “Our ultimate goal is for those who come to Gadsden State to be prepared for tomorrow’s workforce.”
Star staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561.