Opinion Columns & Blogs

Have the long-term unemployed become dispensable?

My daughter recently reentered the job market after tottering on the divide between the currently unemployed and the long-term unemployed. We both breathed a long sigh of relief following an extended and somewhat frightening wait that seemed to carry my daughter further away from that brass ring of employment with each passing day. Luckily, we would tell each other, she has the support of family, but what about those millions of other long-term unemployed and discouraged unemployed that aren’t so fortunate. What happens to them? It seems as if ever since emergency benefits were cut off abruptly and without warning in December that the long-term unemployed have been swallowed up by some invisible black hole.

In spite of the recent positive economic headlines, there are still nearly 3.4 million workers that have been out of work for six months or longer, the magic cutoff that places individuals in the category of the long-term unemployed. Who are these people? The only factor that distinguishes them from the short-term unemployed is the amount of time they have been out of work, but unfortunately it is this unidentified time that incites employers to keep their distance and adds more jobless time to the resumes of those remaining unemployed. Companies fear that time has robbed the long-term unemployed of their skills, leaving potential employers skittish. Only about 1 in 10 of the long-term unemployed get hired every year.

Add to the above numbers the discouraged workers, workers who have given up and ceased looking for work. The discouraged workers are not counted as part of the unemployed by the Labor Department as they no longer consider them a legitimate part of the labor force. This category particularly hits hard the high school and college graduates of the last five years. While skimming through headlines on the Internet, I discovered a blog for the Huffington Post written by a recent college graduate entitled “The Story of a Generation: We Are the Unhireables”. The author claims that we are creating a current generation of jobless Americans.

On the other end of the spectrum appears a portion of the 50 plus population who suddenly and unexpectedly find themselves out of work. They continue to draw from their savings, and often are simply forced into an early retirement that they are not prepared for financially or emotionally. According to the Huggington Post, a third of our total unemployment falls into the discouraged worker category.

Bad luck and poor economic timing caused the current economic epidemic. It’s not about lazy people looking for a hand out. It’s about people who want their dignity returned to them in the form of a job and are unable to find one because there aren’t enough jobs to go around, and too few employers willing to take a chance. During my daughter’s period of unemployment, she cut off her social life entirely because she was unable to face her friends without a job. It broke my heart to watch her daily sit at home stoically waiting for the phone to ring or an encouraging email to appear. Fortunately, she found an employer who appreciated her value and was willing to take a risk. Unemployment and financial incapacity is not a state of being that anyone voluntarily chooses.

So back to my earlier question, what happens to the long-term unemployed? According to a 2013 study by the Urban Institute, a final consequence of long-term unemployment is poverty. 34.1 percent live in households below the poverty line. The rate for the discouraged workers is the highest at 40.9 percent and the newly unemployed are much lower at 23 percent. These statistics arise from the most powerful democracy in the world. We regularly send aid to countries in need, but we ignore our own poverty ridden unemployed. Shame on us.

Current headlines shout out our economic recovery – a new 6.1% national unemployment rate remains steady, but what about the 3.4 plus million Americans who have been out of work for at least six months or more with little prospects of finding a job. Have the long-term and discouraged workers been totally forgotten? It’s like a horror story. It’s as if we have thrown them away, as if 3.4 plus million people are dispensable. Where is the stimulus package, the combination of job stimuli and emergency unemployment benefits that the U.S. Senate and House once aired out? Where is the compromise necessary to save our forgotten citizens?

  Comments