Jill Perry of Derry has been looking for full-time work for more than a year. Joblessness statistics for Southern New Hampshire show she is not alone.

As the state's unemployment rate hovers around historic highs, many towns in Southern New Hampshire are experiencing unemployment higher than the state average.

The state's unemployment rate is low compared with the national average. In January, 7.7 percent of New Hampshire workers were unemployed, not adjusting for seasonal unemployment, compared with 10.6 percent nationwide that month.

According to data going back to 1976, the state had its highest yearlong unemployment rate, not seasonally adjusted, in 1992. Unemployment for the year averaged 7.6 percent and peaked that January at 8.2 percent.

In Pelham, the January unemployment rate was 10.3 percent, up from 9.8 percent in December and 7.7 percent last January. Sandown also had 10.3 percent unemployment last month, up from 9.7 percent in December and 7.6 percent last January.

The state does not seasonally adjust local unemployment figures. Anita Josten, a research analyst with the state Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau, said the increase from December to January is often due to seasonal unemployment. She also cautioned that percentages can be deceiving in some towns.

"Especially when you get into the smaller, less-populated towns and areas, it's a math game," Josten said. "It takes far fewer numbers to make a bigger percentage change."

Some of those people may find some help in their job search this week. The state launched one part of Gov. John Lynch's three-part New Hampshire Working program. The initiative, which began yesterday, allows workers to participate in six weeks of on-the-job training from a potential employer, while still collecting unemployment benefits.

"This initiative will reduce the upfront costs companies bear in training new workers — making it easier for them to hire," Lynch said. "And it will allow workers to get their foot in the door at a company looking to hire, giving them the opportunity to show their skills."

Unemployment in some towns may be more affected by geography than others, Josten said. Salem's unemployment rate was 9 percent, up from 7.1 percent last January, and Plaistow's was 9.2 percent, up from 7.4 percent. Both are on the state border. The numbers are based on where people live, not where they work, she said.

"You have a lot of commuters who cross the border to go into Massachusetts. Massachusetts has a much higher unemployment rate," she said. "Residents of Salem may be more affected by what's happening in Massachusetts than, say, people in the Lakes Region."

The unemployment rate in Massachusetts for January was 10.4 percent, not seasonally adjusted.

Southern New Hampshire is not the only region to experience high unemployment. In the spring, unemployment tends to rise in the North Country, Josten said, because of mud season.

Perry, who has worked part time as an interviewer at the Salem employment security office since November, said other regions may benefit from prior experience with unemployment.

"In the North Country, they're used to that," she said. "Down here, this is new. We don't know how to deal with this. We have to learn a new way of looking for jobs."

While people in Southern New Hampshire may be affected by higher unemployment in Massachusetts, she said, they also have the opportunity to find jobs there.

"I'm looking in Boston," Perry said. "I'll take the bus."

She lost her job as a project manager in the telecommunications field 13 months ago. She still is collecting unemployment. Her part-time job pays less than one-third of what her old job paid.

"To be so desperate that you're willing to take almost anything, it's difficult," she said.

Perry spends 20 hours a week helping other people search for work, while she does the same. Jobs that never required resumes are now asking for them, she said, and people who have never written one must learn. The days of posting a resume online and having offers come from employers are long gone — something it took Perry a while to realize.

"It took me about four months to realize no one was calling me," she said. "I was in denial."

She said fewer and fewer of the people she talks to are maintaining positive attitudes about job prospects — even those who had been in their industry for years before being laid off.

"They're feeling frustrated," she said.

Roberta Gabriel, manager of the Salem NHES office, said most people remain hopeful about their prospects.

"You get a lot of positive people, and you get a lot of people who are discouraged," she said.

And overall, the office just gets a lot of people.

"It's been a very busy year. Very busy," she said.


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TOWNUNEMPLOYMENT RATE JANUARY 2010 (not seasonally adjusted)




Hampstead 8.1%








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