Long-Term Unemployed Want—And Need—Government Action

Isaiah J. Poole

There’s a new study today that shows once again how insanely wrong conservatives are when they say that extending unemployment benefits in today’s economy only discourages people from finding work. \

Just ask the people who participated in the study of the long-term jobless by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. Their report, "No End In Sight: The Agony of Prolonged Unemployment," shows the extent to which the implosion of the economy caused by Wall Street greed has taken a severe toll on people who desperately want to work but, for all of their efforts, can’t.

The report summary says it best:

No End in Sight underscores the fact that positive growth in the nation’’s economy has done little to reach millions of skilled workers still adrift in the most severe period of prolonged joblessness in decades. While the worst phase of the Great Recession may be behind us, the vast majority of jobless Americans have not found new jobs. When they did find work, all but a few took pay cuts and lost benefits. Among those still searching for work —— many for more than a year —— are millions who have never been without a job and who have at least a college education.

This report comes as Congress faces two decisions. One is a one-year continuation of extended unemployment benefits; the current extended unemployment benefits program is authorized to run through June 2. The second is whether to lift the cap on regular and extended unemployment benefits beyond 99 weeks, the current maximum. While there is a will among Democratic leaders in the Senate to push the one-year extension, there is little enthusiasm for changing the 99-week ceiling.

Without an extension of the 99-week cap, there are an estimated 100,000 California residents who have exhausted all of the unemployment benefits available to them, the Los Angeles Times reported last week. That same article quotes private-sector employment experts as estimating that as many as 1 million people nationally have exhausted their 99 weeks of unemployment benefits.

The Rutgers survey interviewed 1,202 men and women in August 2009 who had been unemployed at some point in the previous 12 months, and then successfully interviewed 908 of the same group in March, six months later. How did the unemployed fare?

A dismal one in five (21%) of those looking for work in August of last year had found it by March of this year. [Elsewhere, the report reveals that only 13% had found full-time work.] Fully two-thirds (67%) remain unemployed and looking, with the remaining 12% having left the labor market.

Also noteworthy is the finding that 61% of the people who did succeed in finding a new job said their job was ““something to get you by while you look for something better.” More than half took jobs that paid less than their previous jobs, with a quarter saying that the pay cut was “significant.” One-third took jobs with fewer fringe benefits. More than a third said they had to switch to a new career field to get work. Seven percent said they had to move to a new city or town.

This recession, the report shows, is having its most severe impact on people of color and on older workers. The report also chronicles the emotional and financial strains that are being created in millions of families as a result of long-term unemployment.

As one could imagine, this group of unemployed people span the political spectrum on a lot of issues, but there is one area in which they generally agree: 61% support the notion that the federal government should fund programs that create jobs for the unemployed, even if the debt goes up.

If Congressional leaders would get the courage to move such initiatives as the Local Jobs for America Act to the top of the legislative agenda, they would find a powerful block of allies to support them.

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