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Long-term joblessness is stubborn for many

Union Leader Correspondent

January 22. 2014 9:22PM

DURHAM — New research from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire shows 39 percent of unemployed Americans are continuing to experience long-term unemployment in the wake of the 2008 recession despite actively seeking work.

That is more than double the percent unemployed more than six months but actively seeking work in 2007.

The new research focuses on trends in long-term unemployment since the recession and was led by Andrew Schaefer, a doctoral candidate in sociology at UNH and a research assistant at the Carsey Institute.

It is presented in the Carsey Institute brief, “The Long-Term Unemployed in the Wake of the Great Recession.” The research is based on data from the 2007-2013 annual Social Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey.

Schaefer said they started the research using current population survey data and noticed some things that just did not seem right.

“So we went back to 2007 and realized there is this story here, this shift in who the long-term unemployed were in 2007 and who they are today. The main impetus for writing this piece was the big shift that we noticed when looking at the long-term unemployed,” Schaefer said.

Schaefer said they chose the years between 2007 and 2013 because of the large economic recession that took place in between.

“We expected the recession to increase the percentage of people unemployed long-term. We didn’t expect to see that it is persistently high,” Schaefer said.

According to Schaefer, the percentage of unemployed workers who were seeking employment for more than six months more than doubled between 2007 and 2013, from 18.4 percent to 39.3 percent.

Certain groups were also affected disproportionately, Schaefer said. In 2007, about 35 percent of the long-term unemployed were women compared to 44 percent today.

In contrast, the percentage of men among the long-term unemployed decreased from 65 percent in 2007 to 56 percent in 2013.

To be considered long-term unemployed, a person has to be actively looking for work, meaning they have contacted an employer, submitted an application or had an interview.

“These are not people who have given up. These are people who are looking for work and tend to be highly educated,” Schaefer said, meaning they have at least some college education. “These are people who have the skills and training to work.”

Schaefer said the figure he found most striking was that in 2007, about 12 percent of the long-term unemployed had a college degree or higher.

By 2013, that number was 19 percent.

Schaefer said a lot of the long-term unemployed are families often relying on single bread winners. About 35 percent of the long-term unemployed are married, with or without children, and just over 30 percent of the long-term unemployed do have children.

Schaefer said the real goal for the brief is for people in charge of policy decisions to see this shift and who the long-term unemployed are as Congress continues to struggle with whether to extend emergency unemployment benefits for long-term unemployed persons.

The extension on the program expired Jan. 1 and Congress continues to discuss the issue.

“This group still seems to be large enough to kind of need something to be done,” Schaefer said, but there are arguments on both sides whether an extension of the benefits is the right way to go, as there has not been a reduction in the number of long-term unemployed.

“They are more likely to be highly educated, older, are members of families, increasingly more likely to be female, so policies that are aimed at just the long-term unemployed in general might not be able to address the different nuances of this group and who they are,” Schaefer said.

He said there is evidence that jobs are being created and there are opportunities for some, but many of the jobs do not line up with the skills of the long-term unemployed.

“That is a big reason why some people kind of persisted in this unemployment because the jobs they put in time and effort to gain skills for are depleting,” Schaefer said.

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