From the New York Times, a depressing story about what it is like to be long-term unemployed. This largely matches the experience that I’ve had, and the experience of those I know in this boat.
If long-term joblessness is cyclical, a growing economy should bring people back into the job market. But if structural factors are at play, the concern is dire for the whole economy, with a normal unemployment rate “significantly higher than what has been achieved in the past,” said Janet L. Yellen, the presumptive new Federal Reserve chairwoman, in a speech this year.
Right now, most economists argue that unemployment remains primarily cyclical. Ben S. Bernanke, the departing Fed chairman, made this point last summer, adding that an unemployment rate in the 5 percent range — an indication of a healthy economy — was still obtainable. Growth simply hasn’t proved strong enough to spur businesses to hire all the people who want jobs.
Economists come to this conclusion in part because there is no evidence that the long-term jobless are accumulating in any one industry, which would be a signal that the economy needs to move workers from, say, manufacturing into nursing. Long-term unemployment has hit workers young and old, of all industries, races and backgrounds. But the long-term jobless actually tend to be more educated. [emphasis added] And long spells of joblessness have hit black workers especially hard, as well as single parents, the disabled and older workers.
With time, however, even people with desired skills can become “structurally” unemployed. Longer spells of unemployment become harder to explain away. Jobless workers’ skills can atrophy. Job seekers find it harder to appear eager. Wounds become scars.