More than four million people have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer, putting them in the category of the long-term unemployed, and they make up nearly 40 percent of all people who are out of work but seeking a new job. Why can’t they seem to get hired? New data shows that they look a lot like other unemployed workers except that they tend to be older, a bit more racially diverse, and actually have more education, which implies that they probably just need a better job market.
The data show that there is little difference when it comes to gender, type of job they previously held, and any health impairments among different groups of unemployed workers and small variations on race. Hispanics are about as likely to be unemployed for more than 27 weeks, less than five weeks, to be employed, or to have given up looking for a job altogether — the four groups that the study looks at. Black workers, on the other hand, make up about a quarter of the long-term unemployed and the discouraged, compared to just 15 percent of the newly unemployed and 10.5 percent of those with a job.
In terms of education, 18 percent of the long-term unemployed don’t have a high school degree, compared to a quarter of those who have been unemployed for five weeks or less or those who are unemployed but have given up looking for a job. The employed, however, are much more likely to have more education, as just 9 percent didn’t graduate from high school.
Perhaps the biggest difference, however, is that those who have been looking for a job for more than six months are typically much older than those who just lost their jobs. About 15 percent of the long-term unemployed are ages 56 to 65, but just 8 percent of those who have been out of work for under five weeks are that age. The newly unemployed, by contrast, are much younger: more than 40 percent are ages 16 to 25. The struggle for older workers to reenter the job market may be a sign of age discrimination.
In general, however, the report notes that given how similar the long-term unemployed look to all other workers, what they really need is an improved job market and policies that would lower the unemployment rate overall.
Indeed, the longer someone stays unemployed the harder it is to reenter the workforce. Being unemployed for longer than nine months is the equivalent of losing four years of experience in the eyes of a potential employer. Those who are out of work for six months or longer will find that they get fewer calls back for an interview than those who are currently employed but don’t have the right experience. Some workers report being told outright that a potential employer isn’t interested in those who have been out of a job for a while.
Yet they can’t necessarily expect to get unemployment benefits while they job hunt. Those who exhaust the state-level benefits that tap out around 26 weeks could see federal support shrink thanks to sequestration. Some states could drop the federal program altogether, which has already happened in North Carolina. Those who do get checks will see them reduced by at least 15 percent, with deeper cuts in some states.