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Long-Term Unemployment Becoming More Permanent
By Chris Owen
December 14, 2011

Of the 13.3 million Americans currently unemployed, 43 percent--5.7 million--have been out of work for more than 27 weeks.

At no time in the last 60 years has long-term unemployment been so high for so long.

Increased attention is being focused on long-term unemployed workers because research shows that the longer they go jobless, the more likely it is that they’ll lose their skills, that companies will refuse to hire them and that they’ll drop out of the workforce entirely.

A Synonym for "Unwanted"?

To this point, Michael Hirsh writes in a recent National Journal column that “'long-term unemployed' has increasingly become a synonym for 'unwanted'.”

"As industries die, skills atrophy, and ambition fades, especially among older workers. In a new era of jobless growth, fiscal austerity, and the relentless drive for productivity, employers get pickier about whom they hire," Mirsh says.

"Workers who don’t retrain quickly at a high enough level or those who are stuck with an underwater mortgage and can’t move right away for a job opportunity quickly become long-term unemployed."

The Center for American Progress, liberal think tank, says: "The long-term unemployed are desperate to find work; their benefits are running out, and something needs to be done to assist them in this tough economy.”

Who are these long-term unemployed workers? Disproportionately, they're African-American. About 10 percent of the full-time workforce is African-American. But 27 percent of the long-term unemployed are black. And they tend to be older, over 55. Only about 13 percent of full-time workers are over 55, but they constitute 25 percent of the long-term unemployed.

New Survey on Long-Term Unemployed

Recently, publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNBC, USA Today, and Huffington Post have highlighted the problems facing the long-term unemployed. Just this past week, the Kaiser Family Foundation and National Public Radio (NPR) released a comprehensive survey describing the difficulties that long-term unemployed workers face.

Among the survey's key findings:

The long-term unemployed tended to be low-wage workers. In most cases, the jobs previously held by the long-term unemployed were not high paying. More than half of jobless workers say the jobs they held paid less than $30,000 a year.

The long-term unemployed are struggling to stay afloat financially. People who've been out of work for a long time are much more likely to face trouble paying for food or keeping a roof over their heads.

Losing a job is hard on unemployed workers' health and well-being. Most people who've been unemployed or without full-time work for a long time say they have trouble sleeping, and have either gained or lost weight since losing their paychecks. And about one in 10 has increased the use of drugs or alcohol.

People put off health care when they don't have jobs. The great majority of people who haven't worked, or have been underemployed for a long time say they or their family members have skipped or delayed getting health care because of the cost in the past year.

Being out of work can hurt family life. Being out of work for a long time puts increased stress on a relationship with a partner. More than one in five say their joblessness or lack of full-time work has hurt their relationship with their spouse or partner.

The complete survey is available online

Chris Owen is Chief Operating Officer (COO) of HireStrategy. HireStrategy provides contract staffing services, direct hire search, and executive search solutions in the technology, finance & accounting, sales & marketing, human resources and administrative professions. HireStrategy, an Inc. 5000 company, has been ranked by The Washington Business Journal as the top staffing firm in the Washington DC region, and recognized by Washingtonian Magazine as one of Washington's "Great Places to Work."

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