Ted Wroblewski, 61, of Medford, waits for a computer at the state Employment Department office in Medford. After having been out of work for 91 weeks, Wroblewski lost his unemployment benefits, which are not likely to be renewed even by a proposed congressional extension. - Mail Tribune / Jim Craven

Running on Empty

After 91 weeks receiving unemployment checks, Ted Wroblewski's economic lifeboat sank almost two weeks ago.

"I am very worried," said the 61-year-old Medford man, who thinks his age will make it more difficult to find a job. "I can't sleep at night. What am I going to do?"

Since his benefits ran out, he has survived on food stamps and lives with a friend as he continues his search for work, heading to the employment office daily to check the listings.

Wroblewski is not alone as unemployment benefits ran out two weeks ago for 3,000 Oregonians who have been looking for work for about two years.

Every week another 500 people will no longer receive unemployment checks, said Craig Spivey, spokesman for the Oregon Employment Department.

In Jackson County, more than 190 people saw their benefits expire about two weeks ago, along with 20 in Josephine County. In total, more than 11,130 individuals in Jackson County and 4,480 in Josephine County received benefits in May. In Jackson County, there were an estimated 1,262 unemployed workers who were not eligible for benefits.

Spivey said unemployed people who were eligible at the right time for extension programs that have been offered could have received up to 112 weeks of benefits. But that could not continue indefinitely, he said.

"The unemployment program was established to be a temporary holdover until you get a new job," Spivey said.

Many of the unemployed in the state have received their last checks and probably won't be entitled to another extension even if Congress passes it, he said. The extension would benefit only those who have been on unemployment for a shorter period of time, not for those who have already exhausted all other extensions.

Congress appeared poised to approve the extension today for 2.5 million unemployed whose benefits have run out.

If the government didn't grant another extension, Oregon would have seen up to 10,000 people losing benefits in late October, Spivey said.

Despite the grim job prospects, there have been signs of improvement in Oregon.

The number of new job openings posted by the state Employment Department in June was 12,191, compared with 8,020 in June 2009. Spivey said these are only the job openings listed through the Employment Department and don't necessarily include other services that list openings.

The unemployment rate in Jackson County was 12.1 percent in June, down from 13 percent at the same time last year. In Josephine County, the rate dropped from 14.9 to 13.9 percent. Statewide the rate was 10.5 percent, down from 11.6 percent.

Spivey said the unemployment rate has remained fairly constant for about eight months as the state has struggled to add jobs.

The slightly better news provides small comfort to people like Wroblewski, who has been unemployed for nearly two years.

A former telecommunications engineer, Wroblewski said he applies for jobs on a daily basis and isn't picky about the kind of work he'll take.

"I'm ready to start flipping burgers," he said.

Samara Hamby said she's had odd jobs, which have allowed her to continue to receive new benefits but she said there are few jobs to pick from.

"I think we're all S.O.L.," the 27-year-old Medford woman said. "Trying to find work out there is like finding a needle in a haystack."

Hamby said she has experience in management, photography, clerical work, cashiering, retail and shipping and receiving.

"I've even shoveled pooh," said Hamby, who once worked at a stable.

Despite the rejections, Hamby has pressed on, checking to see what jobs are available and dealing with the bureaucracy of the employment office. She said she's been put on hold for up to a half hour.

"It's exhausting coming here to see who's looking for workers," she said as she waited at the Employment Department office in Medford.

With many jobs posted on the Web now, Hamby said, it's difficult to even find someone to talk to about an opening.

"They don't even want you to come into the business," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or e-mail

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