'The Future Is Terrifying': 6.2 Million Long-Term Unemployed Living On the Edge of Disaster

“Hope is gone. The future is terrifying.”

Those were the sentiments of D.V. from Modesto, CA, concerning her and her husband’s job situation. She was an eligibility case manager and he was a company representative; both were laid off in 2009. Since then, “My husband and I went from making $150K a year to scraping out (if we're lucky) $24K a year. Don't get me wrong, we are lucky to have even that, but it IS a stark reality to have fallen so far so fast."

Another stark reality is the fact that the jobs market has stalled and job creation has fallen to its lowest level of 2011. The June 2011 employment report contained plenty of bad news; only 18,000 jobs were created, the unemployment rate increased to 9.2 percent, and hourly wages and hours worked both fell slightly. The job creation revisions for April and May were both to the downside. 

Long-term unemployment remained at historically elevated levels as those out of work for more than 52 weeks increased by 34,000 from a year earlier to 4,364,000, or 30.3 percent of all unemployed. A large part of that 4,364,000 includes 2,039,000 unemployed who have been out of work for 99 weeks or longer, an increase of 105,000 from the previous month. This is the first time since the 99-week statistic has been tracked by the BLS that it has exceeded the two million mark.

Ninety-niner (exhausted all unemployment benefits) Brenda McFadden, was a corporate travel consultant for more than 20 years, but she's finding that the job market can be unforgiving. Has she seen job market improvements? “Not at all. My state is still over 10% (unemployment). It frustrates me to see the US throwing money we don't have to outside entities, i.e. funding wars and uprisings etc. and yet there are no funds to continue support of the Long Term unemployed during this monumental economic downturn (supporting them would be good for the economy in that they turn around and spend it not hoard it). 99ers especially, are ignored and forgotten and are being swept under the national rug.”

While unemployment is at historically high levels considering the economy is supposed to be in recovery mode, the tragedy of long-term unemployment is especially troublesome. The longer a person remains jobless the more difficult it is to find new work. Many prospective employers often disparage the long-term unemployed for being lazy, having out-of-date skills and not having the confidence to step into a new position.

And on top of that some companies -- including PMG Indiana, Sony Ericsson and retailers nationwide -- have explicitly barred the unemployed or long-term unemployed from certain job openings, outright telling them in job ads that they need not apply.

D.V. from Modesto feels the sting of long-term job rejection, “Unemployment is still above 18% locally and I still don't even get returned phone calls for minimum-wage jobs.”

The jobs crisis can be especially difficult for older workers. “At the present age of 64 and having been out of work for the last 1 3/4 years, I do a lot less, eat much less, get a special discount at the YMCA, shop on senior discount days, walk a lot more, try to combine trips to avoid using too much fuel,” writes Thomas Rainey of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. “The job market for seniors has always been rather bleak; it seems it has really gotten a lot worse in these last few years.”

Brenda McFadden believes that new laws need to be put in place discouraging discriminatory practices that affect the long-term unemployed. “I would like to see strong legislation and penalties to employers who practice discrimination, age related or employment status, and also see relaxed credit reviews when looking at the unemployed for hire because what may have been good or great credit once may be no longer...doesn't mean they won't make a good employee.”

With the numbers of long-term unemployed increasing, it may be reasonable to think a great deal of effort is being expended to address the issue. Unfortunately, that is not the case. More time and effort is being spent cutting unemployment benefits than devising job or retraining programs. 

Many state legislatures, including Florida and Michigan, enacted legislation that reduces the number of weeks the unemployed can collect state benefits.

State changes to unemployment won’t be noticed until 2012, but the federal unemployment extensions are affecting newly laid-off workers now. As of this report, “workers laid off through no fault of their own will not be eligible for any of the generous extended unemployment benefits layoff victims have received from the federal government since 2008.”

Underemployment is also underreported. According to the BLS, underemployment is “persons employed part time for economic reasons.” Underemployment is a job of one to 34 hours a week. As of June, 8.6 million workers were considered underemployed. When including the underemployed, the “real" unemployment rate spikes to 16.2 percent.

Underemployment is hardship for many part-timers, including “Lis Rosser,” a 40-something resident of Myrtle Beach, SC. “I would say over the past years 3+ years, I have applied for at least 500 or so jobs, in 5 or more states via on-line/sending resumes, in person, or phone calls to previous employers. The answer is always the same -- call back in a couple of months or we're not hiring right now.” 

“I have been unable to find any full-time or permanent work of any kind. I applied for anything from McDonald's (they would never even interview me), even worked cleaning toilets and vacation rentals last summer, and now work as a pt (part-time) timeshare telemarketer. No one else will hire me, and I have been with the same company for over a year @ $8.00 an hour plus commission and no benefits. They have laid me off 3 or 4 times during this time, and then call me back.”

Living on unemployment benefits or part-time wages can be very difficult. “I struggle to get by on about $150 - $175 a week, net pay, when I used to make $500 - $600 a week, plus full benefits, working for Harrah's Resorts in Atlantic City. I receive 'partial' food stamps here in SC, and that's it. My 'health care' is the Emergency Room. I can't keep juggling everything, and trying to keep just my cell phone on (needed for work), my car insurance and rent paid, plus gas and car repairs, much longer. Every day I am deeper into this hole, and I don't know how I will ever get out.”

With the GOP controlling the House, the chances for further unemployment extensions, or job assistance, regardless of the unemployment rate, are slight. Congressional Republicans are more interested in bashing Obama about the current jobs situation than doing anything to improve matters. Republicans believe that more tax cuts and unfavorable trade agreements will be the cure-all for a long-simmering jobs crisis. And the Democratic-controlled Senate is incapable of pushing forward jobs legislation due to GOP (and some Democrats) resistance.

That leaves President Obama and his mighty bully pulpit to stand up firmly and empathetically for the long-term unemployed. Wrongly, Obama completely ignores these long-suffering millions. During the president’s recent Twitterfest he answered some jobs questions, but he was never offered a question about what he was willing to do for the long-term unemployed and 99ers who have exhausted all unemployment benefits. The Chicago Tribune picked up on that oversight when it released “Best Tweets Obama didn't answer.” The best tweet?

Why is so little being done for the 6.2 million long-term unemployed? Why have 99ers been abandoned by Congress and the White House?

The GOP seems more inclined to cut social safety net programs in order to continue tax cuts for the wealthy.

There are 2.5 million US households earning more than $250,000 a year. These 2.5 million households are given an inordinate amount of congressional and executive branch attention compared to the 6.3 million households experiencing long-term unemployment. Are the families of the wealthy more deserving of taxpayer benefits than the families of the long-term unemployed? The actions of Congress and the executive seem to indicate that is the case. 

The emotional toll on the long-term unemployed can be devastating. Lis Rosser feels the worst is not yet over for her: “I am afraid I will not survive this. As you know things are getting much worse and I fear the situation has not hit bottom yet.” While Lis isn’t yet hopeless, other long-term unemployed, such as Thomas Rainey, rely firmly on that most precious of emotions: hope. “But I am confident that there will be a light at the end of tunnel for all in need. We will prevail!”

For the sake of Thomas, Lis, Brenda, D.V., the 6.3 million long-term unemployed and the 8.6 million underemployed, it’s vital that their hopes not be exhausted before help arrives in the form of jobs or extended benefits. Unfortunately, considering the recent actions of this Congress, expectations are not high that help will arrive in time.


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