Hopelessness for the long-term unemployed


Screenshot-8The Tea-Publican Congress and the Mighty Wurlitzer of the conservative media entertainment complex right-wing noise machine would have you believe that the long-term unemployed are: (1) not the victims of the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression due to the failure of faith based supply-side “trickle down” GOP economic policies, and our continuing adherence to conservative austerity economics; and are (2) not being displaced by a rapidly changing world of work in which computerization and mechanization is replacing not only manufacturing jobs, but also service jobs and skilled positions as well.

No, the Tea-Publican Congress and the Mighty Wurlitzer of the conservative media entertainment complex right-wing noise machine would have you believe that the long-term unemployed are just lazy ne’er–do–wells who would have a job if only they would just look for work.

Hence the cutting of long-term unemployment insurance benefits and reducing food stamps and child care subsidies, and denying expanded Medicaid in many states to “incentivize” these lazy ne’er–do–wells to look for work . . . jobs which will somehow just magically appear from a ready and willing employer.

The demonization of the unemployed disregards basic economics 101: the laws of supply and demand, productivity, demographic and environmental factors, etc. It’s just so much easier for people who cannot understand complex problems to devise simplistic myths than to address the underlying economic factors. Paul Krugman calls this The Crime of 2010:

[L]et me make the obvious point, just in case anyone missed it: the “pivot” of 2010 — when all the Very Serious People decided that the danger from debt trumped any and all concern for job creation — was an utter disaster, economic and human. It was even a disaster in fiscal terms, because a permanently depressed economy will cost far more in revenue than was saved by slashing the deficit by a few percent of GDP in the short term.

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Some of the austerians were self-consciously exploiting deficit panic to promote a conservative agenda; some were slipping into deficit-scolding rather than dealing with our actual problems because it felt comfortable; some were just going along for the ride, saying what everyone else was saying. Hardly anyone in the deficit-scold camp engaged in hard thinking and careful assessment of the evidence.

And millions of people will still be paying the price for that casual irresponsibility for many years to come.

Danny Vinik at The New Republic writes about the consequences of our failure to engage in serious public policy to address these underlying economic factors in The Most Frightening Result of the Great Recession: Jobless Americans Who Have Given Up:

For months now a debate has been raging in economic circles about the long-term unemployed. One group argues that the current unemployment rate, currently at 6.7 percent, is unrepresentative of the labor market because it doesn’t include the millions of long-term unemployed: discouraged workers who have left the labor market. The other side argues that the labor market has segmented—that those with jobs and the short-term unemployed compete for work in one labor market that is tightening, while the long-term unemployed compete in another where jobs are scarce.

A new Brookings Institute paper (.pdf) by Princeton economists Alan B. Krueger, Judd Cramer, and David Cho provides the strongest evidence to date that the latter group is correct. If so, the authors argue, then “a concerted effort will be needed to raise the employment prospects of the long-term unemployed.” In other words, Congress needs to act.

The long-term unemployed can become disconnected from the labor market in two ways. The first is on the labor supply-side. As time goes by, the long-term unemployed become discouraged and their job search intensity drops. Eventually, they drop out of the labor force altogether. On the labor demand side, employers discriminate against the long-term unemployed and pass over their applications out of fear that their skills have atrophied. In either case, the labor market segments.

The Brookings paper says that the longer a person is long-term unemployed, the harder it is for them to find employment. Among workers who report being unemployed for more than 27 weeks between 2008 and 2012, only 11 percent had found steady, full-time employment a year later. Thirty percent were still looking for work and 35 percent had dropped out of the labor force. The remaining 24 percent had found intermittent employment or worked part-time.

Maybe, the authors hypothesized, this only reveals how hard it has been for the long-term unemployed to find a job. As the economy recovers, employers could start hiring them at a quicker pace, indicating that the labor market has not segmented. To check that, they compared the long-term unemployment rate in states with low unemployment with that of ones with high unemployment. They found no evidence that the long-term unemployed have a better chance of finding a job in states with lower unemployment rates. In other words, an improving economy doesn’t help. Even during the late 1990s when the economy was booming, the long-term unemployed still struggled to find work:


The long-term unemployed are older, on average, than the short-term unemployed, and are slightly more likely to be minorities. Fifty-five percent of them are male and 78 percent have at least a high school diploma. As of February, there were 3.8 million long-term unemployed people in America, and many more have dropped out of the labor force altogether. They aren’t likely to return. The authors also found that 73 percent of those who left the labor force during a 16-month period of long-term unemployment indicated that they no longer wanted a job. They had become permanently unemployed.

This is the most frightening consequence of the Great Recession: working-age, able-bodied Americans who have given up. Instead of contributing to the economy, they will collect benefits from the government, such as Social Security Disability Insurance, for decades to come.

Congress can prevent this. On the supply side, unemployment benefits keep the long-term unemployed in the labor force by requiring them to continue searching for work if they want to collect unemployment. House Speaker John Boehner is blocking an extension of unemployment insurance for no legitimate reason. On the demand side, Congress could offer employers financial incentives—like a tax credit—for hiring the long-term unemployed. Even better, the government could set up a jobs program that targets the long-term unemployed. Neither side seems particularly eager for that.

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“To us, the most important policy challenges involve designing effective interventions to prevent the long-term unemployed from receding into the margins of the labor market or withdrawing from the labor force altogether, and supporting those who have left the labor force to engage in productive activities,” the authors write. “Overcoming the obstacles that prevent many of the long-term unemployed from finding gainful employment, even in good times, will likely require a concerted effort by policy makers, social organizations, communities and families, in addition to appropriate monetary policy.”

This is simply not occurring. Productive individuals with years of experience, training and skills are being laid waste to by an economy that no longer needs them or that cannot create enough demand for their labor to employ them. This is a monstrous waste of human capital, and is destroying the lives of these individuals, their families and their communities. This is a morally repugnant (lack of) public policy in the wealthiest nation on Earth. Americans should value the dignity of work over the accumulation of profits and wealth by the plutocrats.

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AZ BlueMeanie
The Blue Meanie is an Arizona citizen who wishes, for professional reasons, to remain anonymous when blogging about politics. Armed with a deep knowledge of the law, politics and public policy, as well as pen filled with all the colors stolen from Pepperland, the Blue Meanie’s mission is to pursue and prosecute the hypocrites, liars, and fools of politics and the media – which, in practical terms, is nearly all of them. Don’t even try to unmask him or he’ll seal you in a music-proof bubble and rendition you to Pepperland for a good face-stomping. Read blog posts by the infamous and prolific AZ Blue Meanie here.


  1. Your chart is deceptive because the administration has been pushing a huge number of the long term unemployed into the permanent disability ranks to artificially deflate the unemployment rate. The number of people unemployed for 15 weeks or longer is at all time records. This column does accurately reflect the enormous toll this takes on these people. Interesting, the number of people unemployed for 3 weeks or less is moving down, just not fast enough to make an adequate dent in our employement to population ratio.

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