The Real Crisis: Long-Term Unemployment

July 29, 2011

As the manufactured debt ceiling debate rages on, it looks like a real crisis in this country is getting some, albeit brief, attention in the national media. Within the last week, both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have released articles about the unfortunate state of the long-term unemployed. With unemployment at 9.2 percent and nearly five jobseekers for each new job opening, you would think employers would be more forgiving of long employment gaps on resumes. Well, you would be wrong.

WSJ has a very cool interactive graph that shows the share of long-term unemployed in each state. Nationally, about 25 percent of the unemployed have been jobless for at least 52 weeks, but it gets scarier. Nearly a dozen states have over 30 percent of their unemployed searching for work for at least a year. The New York Times piece from this week builds on a briefing paper by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) on hiring discrimination against the unemployed. The NELP report reviewed top online job listing sites over a four-week period and found over 150 ads had language excluding jobseekers based on their current employment status.

However, there is some light in this jobless tunnel, and it’s coming from New Jersey. A recently passed state law is aimed at this exact problem. Employers with job advertisements that discriminate against the unemployed face fines of $1,000 for a first offense, and up to $5,000 for future offenses. Michigan and New York have also introduced legislation to tackle this problem. This state-level movement has spurred action at the federal level in the form of the Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011 introduced in the House earlier this month. This action cannot come a moment too soon. A 2010 paper by Slyvia Allegretto and Devon Lynch shows that of those unemployed, the share in long-term joblessness, increased 75.8 percent between 1983 and 2009, or twice the rate of increase of the entire labor force.

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