In tough times, working a temp job or picking up other regular work was logical, helping assure some cash comes in. But as companies cut back on these positions, many job seekers are finding that it pays better to collect unemployment.
Regina Phillips-Malley has been out of work since October and hunting for a new job ever since. Having been a human resources specialist, she knows what it takes to get in the door at a company.
“I’m not someone who just sits at home every day,” said Phillips-Malley, 27, of Milton. “I’m checking job posts, following up with people I have interviewed with, and talking to recruiters.”
When her prospects turned bleak this winter, she considered temp work. Then she did the math.
She collects $500 a week from unemployment insurance, but most temp jobs she’s found pay about $10 an hour and are hiring for clerical and data entry positions that won’t add any marketable skill-sets, she said.
“I make more per hour on unemployment,” she said. “It’s more money and it’s much more worth my while.”
In tough times, working a temp job or picking up other regular work seems logical, helping assure some cash comes in.
But as high demand drives industry rates down and companies cut back on these positions, many job seekers are finding that it pays better to collect unemployment.
“There’s a reaction to that, that they’re milking the system,” said Daniel King, a career counselor and founder of Career Planning and Management Inc. in Boston. “A lot of people who know they will get (unemployment) extensions see it as a window of time to engage and explore what they want to do.”
Under Massachusetts state law, residents may collect unemployment and work part-time, as long as their weekly earnings don’t exceed one-third of their weekly benefit.
But temp jobs – which may last one or two days to several weeks or months – disqualify a person from collecting unemployment benefits because they provide full-time work.
King, the career counselor, said many job seekers consider temp work a “last resort” unless they find a placement that can double as a professional development opportunity.
That’s not to say temp agencies are short on prospective workers, though, or that applicants are guaranteed work if they sign up. Richard Hirsch, owner of Quality Personnel in Canton and Brockton, said his agency has more people coming in than companies looking for people.
His clients earn $9 to $20 an hour at placements that last at least a week.
“A lot of people are coming through the doors, but there’s no one to hire them,” he said. “We’re screening pretty heavily right now.”
And those looking for higher paying temp jobs may be disappointed. Kevin Grassa, president of Whitridge Associates Inc. in Squantum, says industry pay rates are down 10 to 20 percent from a year ago, when his clients could earn $35 to $50 an hour.
Still, some industries are doing well – and looking for help – said Luke Howarth, regional manager at Robert Half International, who oversees the staffing agency’s Braintree office.
His agency has seen an uptick in credit collection positions, mortgage specialists and loan processors. He’s also noticed a change in his clientele.
“Very professional people are coming in the doors, on a pretty steady basis right now,” he said.
Temp agency managers interviewed pointed out a drawback in choosing unemployment over temp work: At the end of the year, people owe taxes on their benefits.
“It’s an illusion,” Grassa said of the idea that unemployment “pays” more. “There are people who get caught in a mental trap. The sooner they get back to working, the better they’ll be.”
But for those elbow-deep in the job hunt, that may be easier said than done.
Over the past four months, Phillips-Malley has had three phone interviews, six first-round interviews and one second-round interview – but no job offer. Still, she’s determined to keep trying.
“The competition is really, really fierce,” she said. “It’s frustrating to go on all these interviews and think I did really well, and then not get a call back.”
Patriot Ledger writer Nancy Reardon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.