Saturday, December 7, 2013

Long-Term Unemployed Now Desperate

The situation for the long-term unemployed, especially for older workers, has gone from being very painful to extremely desperate.

Annie Lowrey, in an excellent New York Times article titled Caught in a Revolving Door of Unemployment, notes that long-term joblessness is now one of the defining realities of the American work force. She described long-term unemployment as a trap that becomes more and more difficult to escape with each passing month.

She also points out that "a newly jobless worker has about a 20 to 30 percent chance of finding a new job. By the time he or she has been out of work for six months, though, the chance drops to one in 10, according to the research by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco." Can you imagine the odds for someone who's been out of work for 5 years --- since the crash in 2008? Especially if they were over 55?

Megan Woolhouse at the Boston Globe: "Rand Ghayad is a Northeastern University researcher and visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston who has published groundbreaking work on long-term unemployment. Ghayad mailed 4,800 fictitious resumes and recorded employer response rates, and concluded that companies frequently screen out applicants who are unemployed for more than six months.

Ghayad found that employers showed four times more interest in candidates unemployed for six months or less — even if they had less experience and fewer qualifications than those experiencing longer bouts of joblessness. Older unemployed workers, he found, were most frequently passed over, viewed as having outdated skills or as being “damaged goods.”

“I believe workers aged 55 and older are not only suffering from unemployment discrimination, but also age discrimination, which is making it nearly impossible for them to find work in this sluggishly growing economy,” Ghayad said. “Long-term unemployment among older workers should be our priority as a nation.”

A great many of the long-term unemployed are ultimately are forced out of the labor force, with no place to turn, depleting retirement savings, or collecting Social Security early, or turning to public assistance. Many also suffer debilitating depression, and in the worst cases become suicidal, feeling as if they have failed or no longer have value.

Right now, there are few services and institutions dedicated to helping the long-term unemployed, heightening the isolation they likely feel.

A research paper by Ghayad and William Dickens (Federal Reserve Bank of Boston) showed that the long-term unemployed are struggling to find work, no matter how many job openings there are. In an interview for the Wall Street Journal Ghayad says, "Once you are long-term unemployed, nobody calls you back."

In an exposé by The Atlantic, they found that employers intentionally screen out the long-term unemployed, even if their résumé has the same work experience as someone unemployed for less than six months.

Josh Boak, and AP Economics Writer, says "For people who've been out of work for more than six months, the outlook has gone from painful to desperate. More than four years after the last recession ended, long-term unemployment remains near record levels, with 4.1 million Americans out of work for more than six months and still struggling to find jobs. What makes the problem so vexing is these workers, typically older, have qualifications that should provide the path to employment, namely experience, accomplishment, and college degrees."

Aldo Svaldi at The Denver Post writes, "More than 6 million workers had exhausted their unemployment benefits at the end of last year, with a disproportionate share of that group over age 50. Employers don't readily admit to discrimination, but it shows up in not-so-subtle ways — such as job postings that say "must be currently employed". The longer someone stays unemployed, the more depleted they become — financially, professionally and mentally."

According to a study by the Government Accountability Office released last year, workers 55 and older have experienced consistently longer periods of unemployment than younger workers, as employers seek cheaper labor and look to skirt potentially higher health care costs.

A U.S. Government Accountability Office study identified employer reluctance to hire older workers as a key challenge that older workers face in finding reemployment. The GAO also found that the number of workers age 55 and over experiencing long-term unemployment has grown substantially since the recession first began in 2007. Other findings:

  • Individuals age 55 and over have consistently experienced longer durations of unemployment than younger workers.
  • The median length of unemployment has more than tripled for older workers.
  • Several experts interviewed said long-term unemployment diminishes the likelihood that older workers will ever be re-employed.
  • Long-term unemployed older workers who exhaust unemployment benefits before turning 62 are particularly at great risk.
  • The effects of job loss are likely to be longer-lasting for older workers, including them being more likely to lose subsequent jobs and experience additional unemployment spells.
  • Losing their jobs has taken a toll on their sense of self-worth, reduced their standard of living, and put them at risk of long-term financial hardship.
  • Long-term unemployed older workers struggled to pay health insurance premiums and some said they had found it difficult to secure private insurance because of high costs or preexisting conditions. Many had forgone seeking medical care altogether, and stopped taking prescribed medications because they could not afford them.

A study by the Urban Institute also reported that older adults took longer to find work when they lost their jobs; and that wage losses were especially steep for unemployed workers in their fifties who managed to become re-employed:

  • Adults in their fifties spent more time unemployed than their younger counterparts.
  • Half of workers age 50 to 61 who became unemployed spent at least six months out of work.
  • It took more than nine months of job search for half of unemployed adults age 50 to 61 to find work
  • Unemployed adults in their fifties were about a fifth less likely than their counterparts age 25 to 34 to become reemployed. (Conclusions" on page 5)

A newer study from the Urban Institute shows that even if the economy returns to full employment, many workers are still likely to face long-term unemployment --- 40.5 percent of long-term unemployed job seekers are age 16 to 25. This suggests that the youngest job seekers are likely to experience shorter spells of unemployment.

According to an op-ed by economists Dean Baker and Kevin Hassett in the New York Times (which was also referred to in a congressional hearing for older workers*) a worker between the ages 50 and 61, and who had been unemployed for 17 months or longer, only had about a 9 percent chance of ever finding a new job. And the longer they were unemployed, the lower their chances for ever finding work again.

Andrew Sum, director of Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies, concurs: "The longer you’re unemployed, the more likely you are to leave the labor force, and the more likely it’s an early retirement for you.”

* A few statements made at the Congressional hearing last year for older workers who were long-term unemployed:

  • Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin) "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."
  • Charles A. Jeszeck at the U.S. Government Accountability Office: "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. Further, long-term unemployed workers nearing age 62 may opt to claim benefits earlier than they would have if they had still been working. Claiming benefits early, particularly for life-long low earners, can increase the risk of poverty at older ages."
  • Joseph Carbone, President and CEO of The WorkPlace: "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 the] 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." (In an interview for PBS Carbone also said "They're carrying a double whammy, not just the long-term unemployment, but they're 50 and older.)
  • Christine Owens - Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project: "When they [older workers] 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."

Carl Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University in New Jersey says:

"There is really no demographic age group that has as much difficulty getting back in the job market if they lose a job. There is definitely bias against older workers, even if you have skills. They are depressed. They can't deal with rejection anymore. Many of them are requiring food stamps and Social Security Disability Insurance. There has been a high early-enrollment in Social Security, which is a lifetime punishment for people who are forced to do this, because many are taking roughly one-third less at 62."

AARP's Public Policy Institute surveyed unemployed baby boomers and found that while 71% blamed their unemployment on the bad economy, almost half also said they believed age discrimination was at play.

A U.S. Government Accountability Office study identified employer reluctance to hire older workers as a key challenge that older workers face in finding reemployment.

Since the Great Recession began, many older workers have been out of work for five years or longer, caught between a rock and a hard place, because no one will hire them and they are not yet old enough to qualify for regular Social Security.

All in all, the Baby Boomers were the greatest victims of the recession and its grim aftermath. These Americans in their 50s and early 60s --- those near retirement age who do not yet have access to Medicare and Social Security --- have lost the most earnings power of any age group.

And a study by economists at Wellesley College found that people who lost their jobs in the few years before becoming eligible for Social Security, also lost up to three years from their life expectancy, largely because they no longer had access to affordable health care.

Many older workers have run through their retirement savings: One survey of post 50s found 25 percent had used up all of their savings between 2007 and 2010. And those who are forced to take Social Security at age 62 are stuck at a lower benefit for life. According to the GAO report, someone who exited the workforce at that age would receive a median monthly benefit of $909 -– compared to $1,212 for people who wait to take Social Security until age 66.

Researchers found that the long-term unemployed will suffer deep mental and emotional scars from the experience. A Gallup study in the Economic Journal found that those who were out of work for at least a year took longer to recover emotionally than those who had lost a spouse. The results showed quantifiable declines in their health, their self-esteem and their overall emotional well-being. One Gallop Poll showed unemployed adults and those not working as much as they would like are about twice as likely as Americans who are employed full time to be depressed.

Research also suggests that long-term unemployed Baby Boomers may die sooner too, because their health, their income security and their mental well-being were battered by the Great Recession at a crucial time in their lives. The study cited also found that for people in that age group, the long-term unemployed were also more prone to suicide.

The New York Times: Suicides Spike 30% for Baby Boomers:

  • Suicide rates among middle-age Americans have risen sharply in the past decade, prompting concern for a generation of baby boomers who have faced years of economic worry.
  • The most pronounced increases were seen among men in their 50s, a group in which suicide rates jumped by nearly 50 percent.
  • It is the baby boomer group where we see the highest rates of suicide.


  1. These facts in this article are true. I am living this nightmare. Tack on a divorce with three kids still at home with their mother, I have no way out of my situation. No job and $2400 a month in child support, which I can't pay. Count me as part of the increase in suicide rate increasing.

  2. I am considering either crime or suicide, I've been unemployed for 4 months now, spent all my savings, no benefits in my country, you perish or dunno...rob a bank or work for peanuts and eat rice and beans 3 times a day, I've been rejected from almost 300 applications including bad jobs in non-profits, casino dealer positions, NO PAY positions for having a place where to sleep, I am more than desperate, I feel that I am doomed, that life is pointless, sometimes I hate the soleil fact of being latin american.

    1. An open letter to the Republicans:

      Never take away someone's hope, because hope might be all they have.

      Please extend unemployment benefits!

  3. Life has been one big disappointment for me. Now I'm 56, single, no job, a home mortgage I cannot afford so rent my house out. I have to move in with relatives that cannot afford me and talk about depression. I don't know that I will be able to survive this. If I attempt to rob a bank, at least I'll have meals and a place to live. There is no American dream any longer. No hope.

    1. You are in the same boat as millions of other "middle-age" people who are "too old" to hire but too young for a pension. Apply for food stamps and Medicaid first. If you have a disability, apply online now — because it can take up to 3 years after denials and appeals. I know you pain, I've been there.