When Unemployment Lasts Too Long

Opinion

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unemployment _ jobless _ labor market
Even with an acceleration of growth, the global unemployment rate is expected to remain at six percent up to 2017.

In January, short-term unemployment, usually lasting six months or less, was 4.9 percent, only 0.7 percent above the prerecession rate. Conversely, long-term unemployment is three percent, three times higher than before the recession, Forbes reported.

The long-term unemployed comprise 38 percent of all workers without jobs. This group is troubling not only because of the concerning impact on the societal safety net supporting them, but also because it affects their own well-being; daily being out of the workforce results in skill levels declining from not being in daily use.

Long-term unemployment is experienced at a higher rate by our young, our old, the less educated and African-American and Latino workers, according to a New York Times article. Older workers are less likely to be laid off than younger workers, but they are about half as likely to be rehired. Because of this, older workers have seen the largest proportionate increase in unemployment during this recession recovery.

Unemployment for people aged 50 to 65 has doubled. And as their unemployment drags on longer, the re-employment of older workers declines severely. Older workers from 50 to 61, who have been unemployed for 17 months, have only a nine percent chance of finding a new job in the next three months. Those over 62 have only a six percent chance.

Over four million Americans are considered now to be unemployed in the long term. They aren't only disconnected from the workforce, but may be also disconnected from the mainstream culture. If we can't get them reconnected, we're looking at devastating costs not only to them, but our society as a whole.

There's a 50 percent increase in death rates for older male workers in the years following a job loss -- they are expected to live 1.5 years less than a worker with a job. Unemployment has a weighty effect on family members, too. Divorce rates increase by 18 percent; children whose fathers lost a job earn nine percent less annually as adults compared to children whose fathers remained employed. Most adults' identity is their occupation, and taking this away is devastating to the human soul.

All of this takes its toll on the safety net provided for those out of work.

Our government extends food stamps for those in need through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.  And the Workforce Investment Act, or WIA, helps equip workers with the skills they need to find new jobs in the modern workforce. The local nonprofits help because they are compassionate.

Churches constantly are helping those in need, and the local Salvation Army is there to help the underprivileged. But in today's economic world, all of this is being stretched to the limits. The latest controversy in Washington now is the issue with raising the federal debt ceiling to accommodate all the needs this country has. I am sure, like all of the other crises recently in our capital, that this too will go down to the last minute with cuts in federal spending in programs that help those who need it most -- like the over four million long-term unemployed.

To support this suffering segment of our population, we as a nation have to come together. The United Way, the largest nonprofit in the country, has running in 46 states a simple program where anyone can just pick up the phone and call 2-1-1 to obtain assistance from local and national social service programs, as well as local and national governmental agencies. There's a wonderful site online, like Unemployment Lifeline, that links the unemployed with resources in their area.

Unemployment takes its toll, on those out of work and the community as a whole. Our government can help relieve some of that stress by professionally addressing the federal debt ceiling problem, and making sure there are incentives left for everyone to contribute more to the nonprofits who help those most in need.

Washington can help by expanding training programs with proven track records.  The government can aid the long-term unemployed by escalating entrepreneurial opportunities by increasing access to small business financing, so these businesses can hire more people. Our leaders can help by implementing subsidies for businesses that make the effort to hire the long-term unemployed.

No one in America wants to be unemployed. No one in America wants to see our fellow citizens suffer emotionally and financially. This is truly a pulling together moment.

Marc Joseph is the author of "The Secrets of Retailing, Or: How to Beat Wal-Mart!" and the CEO/President and founder of DollarDays International Inc.

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