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Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See for full contents of our site

January 17, 2010


Catherine Rampell, NY Times - Slowly but surely, longer-term unemployment seems to be becoming the norm.

While layoffs are slowing, the number of job openings relative to the unemployed population were still at a record low in November.

That means that those who have already been laid off must spend longer and longer periods looking for work.

In December 2008, 22.9 percent of the unemployed had been out of work for at least 27 weeks. A year later, that portion rose to 39.8 percent. That translates to having about 4 percent of the total civilian work force categorized as long-term unemployed.

Here's a look at how many weeks the average jobless person has been jobless for:

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The average person who was unemployed in December had been out of work for 29.1 weeks. By contrast, when the recession began two years earlier, the average unemployed person had been out of work for 16.5 weeks...

Initially the labor market imperative facing Washington was cushioning the blow of layoffs with safety-net programs like unemployment benefits, so that the newly jobless could still put food on the table and make their car payments. Now the problem is figuring out what to do with this growing army of idle workers.

After all, all things being equal, the longer unemployed workers stay out of work, the less likely they may be to subsequently find work, for two reasons.

First, their skills may deteriorate or become obsolete - especially if they are in a dynamically changing industry like high technology.

Second, the stigma - both internal and external - of their unemployment grows. Studies have linked job loss to declines in self-worth and self-esteem, meaning these people will probably make less compelling job candidates.

Besides that, long-term unemployed workers will have a marketing problem: Even if their skills have not deteriorated, employers are going to worry about that big, gaping hole on their résumés anyhow.

If given the choice between a job candidate who's been unemployed for a month and a candidate who somehow hasn't been able to get hired for a year, wouldn't you choose the former? In other words, unemployment insurance benefits may tide these workers over for a few months. But eventually we will have to figure out a way to transition the long-term jobless back into the work force, whether through training or therapy or tax incentives or public service announcements or something more drastic. And for the two reasons above, the longer Washington waits, the tougher the transition for this growing underclass will probably become.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, we could have a dole, like most industrialized nations that have a portion of the population that can't find work long term, or we could raise the minimum wage by 25%-40% and create a 32 hour work week.

The first would at least make sure that people have the basics covered, the latter would create more jobs, and more free time for people to be involved with their families and communities. Honestly the US would benefit from both these ideas.

Add single payer healthcare so that the health insurance industry isn't consuming 30% of of every healthcare dollar, and end the war on drugs, and US adventures in other contries, and there will be plenty of money to afford a much higher minimum wage, shorter work week, and dole without harming small businesses.

Of course we will probably need a Bastille Day type situation before the power elite will let such things come to pass.

January 18, 2010 11:23 AM  

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