"We're losing the battle. More and more of them are lost every single week. And once they're lost, once they start that march to the safety net, they're done, they're done." ~ Joe Carbone of WorkPlace.org on the long-term unemployed.
Opening statement of then-Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin), Chairman of the hearing
While Americans were hit hard by this recession, the ramifications for older workers are particularly severe. Once older workers lost their jobs, they struggled far more than other groups to find work again. In 2007, less than one in four unemployed older workers was out of work for more than half a year. But only four years later, more than half of unemployed workers over 55 are confronting long-term unemployment.
As a bipartisan opinion in the New York Times over the weekend stated, this problem is, quote, ``nothing short of a national emergency.'' (The Human Disaster of Unemployment) One solution that shows real potential was developed in Connecticut by one of our witnesses here today, Joe Carbone. He has created an innovative program called Platform to Employment that works individually with those out of work to ensure that they have updated skills to thrive in today's economy. The program partners with local businesses to place these workers into internships. So far, 70 percent of those internships have turned into jobs. This program shows real promise to get people back to work and I believe it needs to be spread across the country.
However, it's also important that we look at some of the other reasons why older workers have been kept out of work for so long and address what we can do about it. We asked GAO to look into the issue and it found that employers are wary of hiring older workers, sometimes because they're concerned about health care costs, but other times because they assume that if one is over 55 or has been out of work, then your skills are not up to date.
GAO surveyed experts who highlighted a number of approaches the government could take to help address this problem. One suggested approach addressed in my Older Workers Opportunity Act would provide tax credits for businesses employing older workers with flexible work programs. Another area the experts mentioned is discrimination. Today I'm announcing my support for the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (PDF from AARP) a bill authored by Senators Harkin and Grassley that is aimed at restoring the rights of older workers to pursue claims of age discrimination.
One common theme we've heard is that older workers want to keep working, not only because they need the money, but because they want to remain relevant and productive members of society. We need to encourage this. Left unchecked, long-term unemployment among older workers is a problem that will continue to grow as our work force grays. In only four years from now, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that nearly one in four workers will be over the age of 55. We hope this hearing raises awareness about this growing problem and provides some solutions to consider."
Statement of Sheila Whitelaw, an unemployed older worker: A Philadelphia woman who has been out of work for more than two years. She has served as executive director for three nonprofits, worked as a nanny and office manager, and spent over a decade in the retail industry.
Ms. Whitelaw: I am British by birth and, I'm proud to say, an American citizen. I have been an executive director of three nonprofit organizations. I have also worked as a nanny and an office manager and have spent over a dozen years in the retail sector. I have been promoted in many of the jobs I have had and have never been fired. I have an impeccable work history, but now I am out of work and no one will hire me.
I came to this country with a bachelor's degree in English literature. I married and had two daughters. We moved from the city of Philadelphia to the suburbs so that my daughters could receive a great education. Once my children got a bit older, I decided I needed to go back to work. I found a position as an office manager and stayed for eight years. I then worked for three nonprofit arts organizations.
My final position as executive director was cut short as my daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. Our family moved out to Seattle for five months so that my daughter could receive a bone marrow transplant.
Upon returning to Philadelphia, I cared for my daughter for another year. I was in more of a caregiving mode and at that time I found a part-time nanny position. I stayed with the family for four years and then decided that I missed working with adults and found a job selling women's clothing. In my 12 years at the boutique, I worked my way up from sales associate to manager. But, unfortunately, in January 2010 the store lost its lease and the owner decided not to reopen.
I applied for unemployment benefits and was approved. Then came the hardest part of all, looking for work as an older worker. I didn't know how long it might take to find a job, the economy was in such bad shape. These past two years have been a complete nightmare. I have sent out hundreds of resumes and made many cold calls, as well as attending job fairs. I spend several hours every single day, including weekends, searching for openings on the Internet. I have had over 15 interviews, but rarely have I received a response.
I gather that many employers can calculate my age by looking at my resume or looking me up on line. Many applications require that I put my date of birth to even submit the forms, and I suspect I am weeded out in that process. I have also stopped putting the date of the boutique closure on my application for fear that employers will see how long I have been out of work and judge me because of that.
Last summer as my unemployment benefits ran out, I had to put my husband in a nursing home because of his increasing inability to take care of himself with Alzheimer's. I moved to a smaller apartment and took a position in a hotel gift shop. The conditions were absolutely deplorable and, after finding mice droppings in my handbag, I quit.
Although the State informed me that I might be eligible for a recent extension of unemployment benefits, I had forfeited my eligibility because I left the job after four days of work. I now live on my social security and $35 a month in food stamps. Life is exceedingly hard. I am working with a social worker to find subsidized housing for me in the future. I can work, I need to work, and I want to work, but that seems very far off right now. I didn't have any real retirement money and a small savings accounts is almost depleted.
At this point I don't expect to retire, even if I'm able to find a job. I plan to keep working as long as I am physically able and I am blessed to be in good health. Contrary to what employers think, age is just a number. My age does not define my ability, negate my work experience, or reduce my dedication to the job at hand.
Statement of Charles A. Jeszeck - Director for Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues at the U.S. Government Accountability Office. He's spent over 26 years with GAO working on issues concerning defined benefit and defined contribution pensions, PBGC, social security, unemployment insurance, as well as older worker unemployment issues.
Mr. Jeszeck: The recession has had a devastating effect on millions of workers of all ages, resulting in lost economic growth and reduced income and in the stress of having to seek new work simply to pay the bills. My comments are based on the findings of our report that this committee is releasing today. In particular, I will focus on the growth of long-term unemployment among older workers and its implications for their retirement security. In summary, while older workers are less likely to lose their jobs compared to younger workers, it takes them longer to find new work. Further, if they are lucky enough to be rehired they are more likely to be reemployed at lower wages.
Regarding retirement, long-term joblessness can lead to reduced future accruals for workers with traditional pensions, while workers with 401[k] plans will lose contributions or may draw down their accounts. In each instance, older workers have less time to recoup their losses than do younger workers.
As in past recessions, the jobless rate for older workers has been lower than for younger workers. The jobless rate for workers age 55 and over peaked at 7.6 percent in February 2010, compared to January 2010 peak of 10.6 percent for all workers. However, older workers consistently suffer longer spells of unemployment. In 2007, the median duration of unemployment was ten weeks for older workers, compared to nine weeks for prime age workers age 25 to 54. By 2011, the median duration for older workers had increased to 35 weeks, compared to 26 weeks for prime age workers. Also in 2011, over half, 55 percent, of jobless older workers were unemployed for 27 weeks or more and 15 percent were jobless for 2 years or more.
Rehired older workers displaced from work between 2007 and 2009 also generally sustained greater earnings losses than prime age workers. The median earnings replacement rate for these older workers was 85 percent, meaning that on average older workers in their new jobs earned only 85 percent of their previous wage. This is compared to 95 percent for prime age workers. About 70 percent of these rehired older workers sustained some job loss, compared to 53 percent of prime age workers. Job loss can affect the retirement security of older workers in many ways. For those fortunate enough to have a traditional pension, long-term unemployment can lead to fewer years of accruing benefits from growth in wages in service and may prevent short-tenured employees from vesting. For those workers with 401[k] plans, long-term joblessness can result in lost employee and employer contributions and can lead a worker to draw down her account balance. In our report we analyzed a worker 55 years of age with an average 401[k] balance of $70,000 who was unemployed for 2 years, drew down half of her account for living expenses, and then reinstituted contributions upon reemployment. Using rate of return assumptions from SSA, we found that she had still not made up the losses to her account by age 62. Such drawdowns may be fairly common. An October 2011 AARP survey of workers age 50 and over found that nearly a quarter said that they had used all of their savings during the past three years.
Long-term joblessness also hurts those workers who rely primarily on social security. Although it favors low earners, because the social security retirement benefit formula relies on claimant's highest 35 years of wages long-term joblessness of a year or two could reduce their benefit. Further, long-term unemployed workers nearing age 62 may opt to claim benefits earlier than they would have if they had still been working. The SSA Office of the Chief Actuary has estimated that about 6 percent, or 139,000, more older workers filed for benefits between 2007 and 2009 than had been expected without a recession. Claiming benefits early, particularly for life-long low earners, can increase the risk of poverty at older ages. Even in the best of times, a secure retirement is a difficult prospect, especially for those workers with no traditional pension and little retirement savings. The effects of the recent recession illustrate how daunting that endeavor will be for many in the years to come.
Statement of Joseph Carbone - President and CEO of The WorkPlace in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Mr. Carbone has developed the Platform to Employment, a public-private partnership that provides participants with placements at local companies. His program has been featured on 60 Minutes in a segment titled ``Trapped in Unemployment.''
Mr. Carbone: Certainly the word ``scourge'' is a strong word and I think it understates the level of social change that is being caused to the American workforce as a result of this horrible recession. It's not just the number of people that are unemployed; that in and of itself is certainly staggering. It's the length of unemployment that really does present the greatest challenge to the American workforce system. It's not unusual, in fact it's a daily occurrence, that you're interacting with people who have been out of work two, three, four years. It's not uncommon.
Understanding and developing an appreciation for the damaging effects of long- term unemployment is something for national discussion and I commend you for bringing it up here. I saw the same article in the New York Times over the weekend. Something happens at the one-year point of unemployment. It's terribly insidious and it's kind of structural. We hear the term ``structural'' usually in reference to the economy, but something structural with respect to the person. It's the mind. It's no longer just being out of work; it's the mind. It's one's self-esteem, it's one's confidence. It's the emotional effect that unemployment has with respect to family and children and how you feel about life and things of that sort.
At a time when it's more and more difficult to convince business that you're the right candidate for the job, where you need to be at your best, it seems to be a case in which you're facing a mountain of challenges. Overcoming this is really daunting for anybody, but it's compounded for older workers. They're dealing with the stigma of being older. They're dealing with the prejudices that come with it, with the discrimination that comes with it, and this mean perception that lots of folks have that you're looking for something for nothing or your skills are too dull to be of help to anybody. It's a challenge if you're under 50. It's a category 5 hurricane if you're over 50.
I fear that we're losing the battle. We've already had thousands of people in this Nation reach the point where their benefits have expired and thousands more every week fall into that category. And until or unless there are relevant services and tools that are part of the American workforce system, that understands the effects of long-term unemployment and provides them for this population, so that population stays connected to the system and is served, we will continue to lose them. That one-year point of unemployment is a critical time to either keep them and catch them or to lose them.
Three million people or more have exhausted benefits already and another three million may very well exhaust benefits by the end of this year. Now, there's no shortage of stats. You've heard them all. But the increase in terms of the percentage of the population of 55 and older that are unemployed for a year is four times what it was four years ago.
Our program, Platform to Employment, was basically a research project, and I think very clearly it showed that if you address the issues of one's self-confidence, the emotional issues, and you recognize the position of benefit, the buyer's market that business has, you can't help to give them a chance to reenter the workforce. Short of that, it's very, very difficult. Now, time may be kind of running out here. As I said before, the one-year point is that point. But we're going to be having what could be two or three million people reach the conclusion of benefits at the end of this year.
It could be 25 to 30 percent of them might very well be people that are 55 and older. The more time that people are unemployed, the more hopeless and desperate that they become. After a while they stop looking for work, they give up, and they rely upon the regional safety net for support.
The SCSEP program, the Senior Community Service Employment Program, may not have been designed for this particular population, but I think it's a service vehicle that you should consider. It keeps the focus on employment. I see no merit whatsoever in moving this program from the U.S. Department of Labor to HHS. This is a plan that's been considered for two or three years. It sends exactly the wrong message to older workers in particular who are long-term unemployed that you're a social service issue, you are not an employment issue. You ought to take that program, examine the regulations, declare long-term unemployed people a group that is a priority in the program, and consider the investment option [and] the cost of the safety net, as opposed to the cost of investment in the person in the program. Do a pilot project. I suggest to you that it will be thousands of savings per person to invest on the employment side as opposed to the safety net and, most important, you're giving people a chance to have the American dream and to have opportunity, which is a basic fundamental right of being an American.
Statement of Diana Furchtgott-Roth - A Senior Fellow at the libertarian Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. Formerly Ms. Furchtgott-Roth served as Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, as well as Chief of Staff, and President George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers.
Ms. Furchtgott-Roth: "Unemployment is a serious issue for older workers and also a problem for other workers. Millions of Americans are looking for work. I agree that older workers face serious difficulties in today's underperforming labor market, but I disagree with the GAO report's implication that the problems facing older workers require policies that treat older workers differently from younger workers. Such policies would needlessly set one generation against each other. They rest on the false premise that the problems facing older workers are the result of discrimination or other factors that work specially against older workers and in favor of younger workers. In fact, the problems facing older workers in today's stagnant labor market are not dissimilar from the problems facing all workers--lack of robust growth.
Over the past ten years, employment has increased among Americans 55 and older by 8.9 million. At the same time, it has declined by 3.1 million in the 25 to 54 age group and declined by 313,000 among those age 20 to 24. The labor force participation rate of seniors has increased by 5.7 percentage points over the past ten years, yet it's declined in other age groups. Compared with those age 20 to 24 and 25 to 54, unemployment rates are lowest for those 55 and over and have seen the smallest increase over the past decade.
In November 2011 the Pew Research Center issued a lengthy study entitled The Rising Age Gap in Economic Wellbeing. It concluded that the gap in wellbeing between older and younger workers was at a record. The older group had 47 times the net worth of the younger group in 2009, compared to a multiple of 10 in the quarter before. Older Americans, the report from Pew concluded, had benefited from appreciation of their homes, higher incomes, and lower unemployment rates.
Younger workers have student loans and no jobs. There was a lengthy article [in the New York Times] called A Generation Hobbled by the Soaring Costs of College showing that debt among some students they interviewed was $125,000 when they graduated.
The reality is that the administration's policies have failed across the board and resulted in a serious deficit of employment opportunities for all workers, old and young alike. The problem will not be solved by special policies that favor one group over another. What we need instead are policies that broadly create more job opportunities for all, with older workers benefiting as much as younger workers.
Just a few sample policies: Add more certainty to the tax system. Rates on income and capital are scheduled to rise dramatically next January 1st [capital gains taxes rose from 15% to 23.8%] creating extensive uncertainty and what some people have called ``Tax Armageddon.'' Older Americans are disproportionately hurt by tax uncertainty because they have fewer opportunities to react to changes, particularly those affecting capital gains. (Editor's note: I strongly disagree with Ms. Furchtgott-Roth's premise.)
Another example that we could do is eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency's new regulations on coal, which are affecting the utility sector, which employs a disproportionate number of older workers. Over 100 coal-fired plants have closed since January 2010. The closing of coal- fired plants causes electric utilities to require higher rates, which harm older Americans on fixed incomes. (Editor's note: I detect an agenda by Ms. Furchtgott-Roth not related to long-term unemployment for older Americans.)
If we approved the Keystone XL Pipeline, Canadian oil could go to our refiners in the Gulf to be made into gasoline and other products. Millions of older Americans live in the States that would benefit from these construction projects. (Editor's note: Again, I detect an agenda by Ms. Furchtgott-Roth not related to long-term unemployment for older Americans.)
One proposed bill that would interfere with job creation is S. 1471, the Fair Employment Opportunity of 2011. The bill would set up another protected class of workers, the unemployed. The unemployed would be allowed to sue employers for discrimination. This would increase the cost of hiring American workers, making it more likely that employers would expand plants offshore, making America a less favorable place to do business. Employers would face more paperwork to show that they weren't discriminating against the unemployed, and trial lawyers would target companies with threats of lawsuits. (Editor's note: Yet again, I detect an agenda not related to long-term unemployment for older Americans. Ms. Furchtgott-Roth is a member of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, which is a libertarian American think tank --- and she was an also economic advisor to George W. Bush.)
Statement of Christine Owens - Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project. Ms. Owens previously served as Director of Public Policy for the AFL-CIO and founded and ran the Workers Options Resource Center, which fought for an increase in the Federal minimum wage.
Ms. Owens: Older workers are less likely to become unemployed, but when they become unemployed they are more likely to remain so and to remain so for longer periods of time. Moreover, older unemployed workers are three times as likely as younger unemployed workers to become unemployed because they have lost their jobs, and in contrast younger workers are three times as likely to be unemployed because they are looking for a first job or reentering the workforce, perhaps after finishing college.
Each group would benefit from public and private policies that take into account the discrete problems that they face. We don't want to pick winners and losers, but public policy responses to an unemployment crisis is not a zero sum game. There are two bills currently pending before Congress that we believe would enhance prospects for older long-term unemployed job-seekers.
The first is the Fair Employment Opportunity Act (text). It would bar employers and agencies from refusing to consider or hire qualified individuals simply because they are unemployed. It does not promise a job to any candidate. It does not require employers to consider unqualified candidates. It simply opens the doors that are now shut on qualified applicants simply because they are unemployed.
Similar to existing workplace laws it borrows from, it provides a cause of action for job applicants and remedies for applicants, applicants wrongfully denied the opportunity to apply for a job. And it preserves the right of employers to impose an employment restriction where doing so is a legitimate criterion for the job in question. This legislation is a commonsense solution to a problem that, despite considerable public attention over the last couple of years, has actually persisted.
Recent advertisements continue to express restrictions to limiting job openings to those who are currently employed. We hear complaints from unemployed workers all the time, who come to us with their accounts of having been approached by a recruiter and then, once the recruiter learns the person is unemployed, the person won't be considered.
Also in our testimony we cite examples of headhunters, recruiters, and employment agencies that have gone on the record saying that they are told not to refer unemployed job candidates. This is a real problem. I wish we didn't need legislation to correct it, but it is not self-correcting.
Second, Congress should pass the Protecting Older Americans Against Discrimination Act, which has bipartisan sponsorship of Senators Harkin and Grassley, as well as Senator Leahy. The measure was introduced in March of this year. It would reverse the Supreme Court's decision in 2009 in Gross v. FDL Financial, which upended longstanding and established burdens of proof in employment discrimination cases involving mixed motives and held that under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act plaintiffs must show not only that age was a motivating factor for the employment action, but must essentially disprove any other factor the employer may have relied on, whether the plaintiff knows it or not.
This is a radical decision. It rewrote the law. It disregarded interpretations of Title 7, which is a parallel law, and it has created significant mischief. It has created second-class status for ADEA plaintiffs. It essentially gives employers a green light to discriminate if they had another reason in addition to age discrimination. It creates confusion for trial judges and juries that are hearing dual-basis cases involving both age and gender or race discrimination.
And it has now been extended to the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Rehab Act, and Title 7 retaliation cases. The Protecting Older Americans Against Discrimination Act would right this wrong, restore the standards Congress intended. In the words of Senator Grassley, ``Older Americans have immense value to our society and our economy and they deserve the protections Congress originally intended.''
I want to end by quoting that New York Times op-ed ``What we can't assume is that these problems will correct themselves. For older unemployed workers, their families and their communities and the nation, the situation will only get worse as we wait. Every month of delay is a month in which our unemployed friends and neighbors drift further away.''
Mr. Carbone. [My program] covers long-term unemployed people. It's called Platform to Employment. What we did, it was basically a research project. We wanted to learn more about long-term unemployment, so we looked at a two-year study that we had done in-house with our one-stops. It was clear to us that long-term unemployed people were facing a severe loss of confidence. The emotional issues would certainly inhibit their ability to perform well in the job-seeking side of things.
We also had to recognize that it was a buyer's market, that business doesn't have to consider these people. So we had to make it a case in which a program could be offered that would hold business free of any risk.
So we took 100 people that in microcosm looked like our district. In fact, the statistics pretty much mirrored, I think, the national statistics. And they engaged in the first five weeks, which was all about restoring one's confidence and getting emotional support from specialists during that period, then job search, then going into companies where a job was actually open. We would subsidize the wages, actually cover the wages, for a period of up to eight weeks and they would be on my payroll at WorkPlace, Inc. So the businesses were completely free of risk. Business could have terminated the contract after one day or after eight weeks and not hired the person. We've got 71 percent employment as of today, in full-time jobs that are private sector jobs. These are all people that were two years or longer out of work. They came from all employment disciplines, all walks of life. They came from the Greenwich side of my region and the Bridgeport side of my region. They found life again.
I think [we should] start with the two most essential parts of [my program] and try to establish them in the American workforce system. Dealing with the issue of self-confidence with long-term unemployment must be addressed. There are 3,000 one-stops coast to coast in America. That's where the rubber meets the road, where your constituents that are unemployed and our friends that are, that's where they interact with the American workforce system. If you're long-term unemployed, there is very little difference in terms of what's offered for you than if you're unemployed for three days. So I think you take the issue of a program that can restore their self-confidence, you include the kind of programs that can deal with the emotional issues that will inhibit your ability to be successful at this.
And you look at the standpoint of business, you know, whether or not old tax credits or OJT programs or things of that sort still have relevance. I question that. So the program worked out very well and, yes, I did it with private money, and by doing it with private money it opened the doors to a lot of businesses that if it was government money they would have never really let us in.
Mr. Jeszeck. The economy really needs to create more jobs. That ultimately is going to set the stage for really helping a lot of people.
Mr. Carbone. I can tell you more from the standpoint of the experience that we had with Platform to Employment. I think it takes a while, it takes a long period of time, for people to come to a conclusion that perhaps the level of business responsibility or managerial responsibility I had before is not necessarily in reach at this moment. It takes a while to think in terms of a platform, a way station, a place in which you can get off unemployment and onto employment and then have a chance to kind of get your life back together again. I think it has more to do with that than it does just anything else.
Mr. Jeszeck. One of the things we found, was that if you just looked at unemployment rates among older Americans, that relationship still held true, that generally more education led to lower unemployment. However, once you were unemployed, the likelihood that you would have long-term joblessness was pretty much equal, regardless of your level of education; that once you fell into that group of being unemployed, it cut across racial differences, gender differences, education differences. It does seem that there's some other forces at work here. Once you fall into that category, it's either employer perceptions or the fear that older workers may cost more because of their higher health care costs, or unwillingness to invest in older workers because they might not have enough time at your workplace so you can recoup that investment in their training, a number of different things. But once you fell into that category, it pretty much washed the educational differences out.
Ms. Furchtgott-Roth. One important factor is that the more senior the worker--and people in their 50s are often at the peak earnings of their careers, so there are fewer jobs open to them. They have to face taking a cut in pay, which can psychologically be very difficult. So if you think about a 25-year-old starting out, there are more jobs open. So that's a factor.
Ms. Whitelaw. One of the other things that I have found in my job search, which is sort of alarming to me, is when you go for the interview they look at you. If you manage to get even an interview, they look at you and they can sort of figure out your age somewhat. And then what I've encountered is they try to dissuade you in a very clever way of not taking the job, by throwing things at you like: You're going to have to carry 50 pounds in a box; is that okay? You have to climb ladders, you have to work until 11:00 o'clock at night. I found that to be quite rampant actually. So I realized what they were trying to do. I mean, at least my feeling was that they were trying to dissuade me from even thinking about the job.
Mr. Jeszeck. In our focus groups, which we made clear are not generalizable--we didn't derive any statistical analysis from them, but just at a personal level one of the things we found, that for these older workers, particularly when they were employed for long, extended periods of time, some of them for two years, they would take any job that was available. They had reached points where it didn't matter what they were before in their old company, and some of them had positions that had a lot of responsibility. But at this point they really had reached the point that they needed work and would virtually do pretty much anything for anyone who would hire them.
Mr. Carbone. I think it was Pew that did a study, and when you look at long-term unemployed folks by education the numbers are remarkably alike, somewhere 35 percent average. It didn't matter if you had a high school degree or if you had advanced college degrees. I think it's the case of the fall. I think the fall is hurting more when you're in a higher level position. You were probably at the peak of your earnings or you were doing very well. It takes longer to reach that point. I think it's less education. It's less that. It's not that businesses or industries don't want that. It's that it takes a while for a person to realize that, I've got to do something that is perhaps not at the same level that I was doing before. I think that has a lot to do with the length of the unemployment and how they compete for work.
Mr. Carbone. Just look at the want ads, check out the Craigslists of the world. There has been nothing more disheartening. I spend a lot of my time interacting with long- term unemployed people. And it's bad enough when you go to 3 or 400 different places where you apply for work and you don't get responses, but it's when in earnest you're looking for employment and you'll see as part of the advertisement: If you're unemployed, don't apply. Or if you've been unemployed a year or longer, don't apply. These folks that issue--I mentioned before about self- confidence. Very important. It's a critical component to getting back on your feet. That just adds another level of: You're done, you're done. It's there. Many companies are overt about it. We've seen some companies that are icons, that actually put it on their web sites. But a lot of other companies in a much more quiet way will practice it, will practice it. And I worry more about them than I do the ones that put it on the web site, because I think there's a lot more of them out there that do that.
15 years ago when I came to The WorkPlace, if somebody said, ``what's long-term unemployment,'' I would have said 39 weeks. And now it's 99 weeks in Connecticut. It's kind of tapering down. It won't be for long, but it was. And that changes the way we do our business. So we kind of spent two years as unemployment was surging, preparing the one- stops for this huge increase in the number of participants as the unemployment rate was rising. But while that was happening, it was sort of--kind of almost a silent feature, because I will tell you, and I take a lot of guilt on this, I didn't even notice it until it became a crisis, where one day the acting commissioner of labor sent a letter out saying: On May 15, 12,000 people in Connecticut are going to reach this 99-week of benefit point, be unemployed, and no further benefits. So you could imagine that you go that period of time and all of a sudden not only don't you have a check coming in, but you don't have a job.
There are issues that are facing you that the American workforce system never had to address before, and frankly is not prepared to address, not prepared. It's not Platform to Employment per se in 50 States everywhere. It's the elements of the program that proved to be essential to enabling long-term unemployed people to gain employment. Putting those elements in the American workforce system is what this is all about. It doesn't take a lot. It doesn't cost a lot. But it's a way of connecting this population.
When I said before that we're losing the battle, more and more of them are lost every single week. And once they're lost, once they start that march to the safety net, they're done, they're done. So it's looking back at the American workforce system and seeing what's not there that needs to be there.
By the way, we do it for other groups and we should. We do it for veterans, we do it for dislocated workers, we do it for people with disabilities, and we should. This is a special population whose numbers eclipse all other special populations in our system already, and growing every day, and we're not addressing it. We're basically telling them to walk the plank and get lost.
Ms. Furchtgott-Roth. We're at an almost record high in terms of the share of the unemployed that is long-term. We were at, I think, a record high last year, something like last year. It's gone down slightly. That's why we really need to focus on economic growth to get rid of this problem.
If you look at North Dakota, it has the lowest unemployment rate in the Nation. Unemployment is 3 percent. It's taking advantage of oil and natural gas exploration. And there are other States, other parts of the country that want to do that, but are impeded by regulation. We can almost call the United States ``Saudi America'' in terms of the percent of oil that we have that's going to come on line in the next 20 or 30 years, and we need to take advantage of this new American energy revolution to be putting people back to work. You can't get a motel room in North Dakota. The same with Eagle Ford south of San Antonio in Texas. We need to be encouraging these other kinds of policies to reduce long-term unemployment as well as short-term unemployment. (Editor's note: There Ms. Furchtgott-Roth goes again. I detect an agenda not related to long-term unemployment for older Americans. She wants us to believe that drill-baby-drill and more fracking is the answer for millions of long-term unemployed Americans. TransCanada -- of the XL pipeline --- says on their website that it would only create 20,000 jobs. How did she get on this hearing? Note how Senator Blumenthal closes the hearing.)
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D- Connecticut) - I wish we had the oil and gas in Connecticut that North Dakota has. So we are actually relying on different kinds of energy to generate employment, fuel cells and alternative sources of energy, which may not be subject to that kind of regulation, but are equally important to the energy future of the country, I think. But thank you for that comment.
[Whereupon, at 3:12 p.m. on May 15, 2012, the hearing was adjourned.]
* EXCERPTED FROM THE HEARING "MISSED BY THE RECOVERY: SOLVING THE LONG-TERM UNEMPLOYMENT CRISIS FOR OLDER WORKERS" BEFORE THE " SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON AGING" IN THE UNITED STATES SENATE'S ONE HUNDRED TWELFTH CONGRESS ( SECOND SESSION, WASHINGTON, DC) (Senate Hearing 112-541)