Refugee employment comes in at 81 percent

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Bhutanese in NH (Courtesy : Bhutanese Community of Manchester, NH)

Initially reported at 86 percent, a more recent tally shows that refugee employment is 5 percentage points lower, a state official said Tuesday.

During 2011, 81 percent of New Hampshire refugees were employed, said Barbara Seebart, New Hampshire state refugee coordinator. On Monday, Mayor Ted Gatsas had said Seebart’s agency had put the rate at 86 percent, a number he is skeptical of.

Seebart said the 86-percent tally was for 2010.

“These are the statistics that we collect,” she said. “I could never assess (why it fell). It would correspond to the same reason the economy fluctuates.”

Bhutanese in NH (Courtesy : Bhutanese Community of Manchester, NH)

Meanwhile, an advocate for ethnic Bhutans, the most recent refugee group to resettle in Manchester, said job prospects brightened for his community this year. Bhutan is a small country north of India; many of its residents have lived for years in refugee camps in Nepal.

Tika Acharya, executive director of the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire, said 80 to 90 percent of the 190 Bhutanese families in Manchester have at least one member working.

“They can pay the rent, unlike last year when there was (much) unemployment. The situation has improved,” Acharya said.

He said younger Bhutanese with little education are working with health care-related employers such as independent living agencies and nursing homes.

Michael Redmond, chief operating officer at Crotched Mountain rehabilitation, said about 15 of the 800 employees are refugees.

They are some of the agency’s best full-time employees and stay on the job longer than the average worker, Redmond said.

“You think of New Hampshire and the strong work ethic, these refugees who settle here, they embody that,” he said.

Acharya said older Bhutanese have landed jobs at Blake’s All Natural Foods in Concord and local retailers. Others hold housekeeping jobs in Manchester hotels.

Sally Blake, co-owner of Blake’s, said the company employs about 20 Bhutanese full-time during its nine-month busy season. That’s about half the company’s workforce.

She said the workers with better English skills interpret for those with less English. As workers, they are extremely adaptable, and whenever a position opens up they recommend a friend or relative.

“It’s a wonderful group of people who want to work and are happy to come in every day,” Blake said. She said the company is in its slow season in the early summer, so only a few refugees work there now.

Archaya said others have found employment at a textile operation in Lowell, Mass. He said more recent arrivals would not likely be employed because they are learning English and other job skills.

“The unemployment problem is a community problem,” Archaya said. “It’s not a refugee problem or a problem created by refugees.”

The most recent unemployment rate for New Hampshire is 4.9 percent, as is the Hillsborough County rate. The Manchester rate is 5.4 percent.

State and national officials don’t track unemployment rates for refugees.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported unemployment rates of 8.7 percent for New Hampshire blacks and 8.8 percent for Granite State Hispanics in 2011. Bhutanese are Asian and would not fall into either demographic group.

Seebart said the percentage of refugee employment is reported to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement by refugee resettlement agencies. The agencies provide English and job-assistance services to the refugees.

The employment tally covers refugees who have been in New Hampshire for five years or less. She said another tally looks at long-term employment — 90 days or more — but she did not have that available when she spoke to a New Hampshire Union Leader reporter from home Tuesday.

She said refugees who go through the job program are obligated to take the first reasonable job that is offered.

“We (New Hampshire) are considered to have good employment statistics,” Seebart said.

Short-term job placements make Gatsas and Alderman Pat Long, who is involved in refugee issues, skeptical of the reporting from Seebart’s office. Long said he’s heard lots of anecdotes, but he wants the employment number quantified.

“Where are they working, how long have they been working there?” Long said. “When you peel the onion on the employed, if they’ve worked for two weeks, they’re employed.”

Courtesy : New Hampshire Union Leader