Dispelling the Myths of the Long-Term Unemployed

Filed in DOL, Jobs, Unemployment by on January 10, 2014 19 Comments

More than a dozen long-term unemployed individuals from New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia traveled to Washington, D.C., earlier this week to meet with Secretary Thomas Perez and share their stories about struggling to make ends meet while being out of work for extended periods of time.

The group of workers, some of whom have been out of work for two years or more − at no fault of their own − included experienced and highly educated professionals from fields such as financial services, healthcare and information technology. The workers expressed dismay over stereotypes that the long-term unemployed are lazy or are living comfortably on long-term Unemployment Insurance benefits. We spent a good deal of the conversation dispelling myths such as:

Myth: They don’t really need these benefits to live on.

“I need this [unemployment benefits] to survive. It was either the phone bill or the car − my family has to make these decisions every day.”

Reality: Other workers shared that unemployment benefits have been a critical lifeline but the benefits only replace one-third of their prior income or less, forcing them to dip into retirement savings, risk foreclosure and make other difficult decisions. As a former manager with a defense contractor and Iraq veteran put it, “I’ve gone through all my savings. I’m at the bottom of the barrel.” Nearly half the workers have tapped into 401Ks, paying the tax penalties associated even with such hardship withdraws just so they can pay their bills.
Watch two of the workers from the meeting talk about what it’s like to be unemployed:

Myth: These people are too lazy and aren’t capable of finding a job.

“We are still in good shape. Our minds are alert. We have skills. We have experience. We have the heart.”

“That was very painful for me, I don’t consider myself a slacker.”

Reality: These highly qualified and accomplished professionals shared how they have not received job offers for a variety of reasons. Some expressed frustration with “falling between the cracks”: not meeting specific qualifications for some jobs but being overqualified for others − even being turned away from minimum-wage jobs. Some believed that their age or salary levels have worked against them as they compete against younger workers, even though they’d be willing to take a pay cut. Others expressed frustration with automated application systems and an inability to make their case for employment directly to company decision makers rather than hiring managers.

Myth: They aren’t trying hard enough.

“Our American Dream is being taken away from us. … We’re not sitting on a couch collecting benefits.”

Reality: Despite these challenges, each worker expressed intent to continue doing whatever they could to get back into the workforce. “I’ve never been busier,” said a corporate travel specialist and mother from Annapolis, Md., who is going back to school to gain new skills while looking for work. Some found short-lived successes by tapping into their extensive networks to secure brief consulting jobs, contract assignments, and temporary or part-time positions. Some of the workers upgraded their skills and acquired new certifications by accessing services and resources through their local American Job Centers. Some mentioned attempts to break into new careers and even relocate to new regions in the country. As one of them put it, “I’ve had to reinvent myself over and over. I’m not going down without fighting.”

This kind of listening session is so important to the work that we do in my agency, the department’s Employment and Training Administration. We organized the meeting through community partnerships that we’ve developed under the Labor Department’s Job Clubs Initiative, spearheaded by Ben Seigel. Staff from a number of ETA offices sat in to listen and learn, so that we can all better serve the long-term unemployed, including through our Unemployment Insurance and American Job Center programs.

It took tremendous courage for these people to share their struggles, and Secretary Perez promised to relay what he heard to President Obama. For me and my colleagues, the session further strengthened our commitment to expand opportunities for long-term unemployed workers.

Editor’s note: For job search and career resources, visit www.careeronestop.org. Eric SeleznowTo learn more about the department’s Job Club initiative, visit www.dol.gov/jobclubs.

Eric Seleznow is the acting assistant secretary of labor for employment and training.


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Comments (19)

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  1. Judy Clancy says:

    I feel for these individuals and I hope they can have extended benefits. I also want to point out that there are many others just like these folks whose unemployment benefits ran out long before this and they are suffering even more because they still are unable to find employment through no fault of their own and have had to survive with no unemployment benefits once it ran out for them. I have seen this first hand and our country needs to help them all. They are bright, experienced, hard working Americans who deserve to be employed and to have help until they secure employment.

  2. Bozodaclown says:

    Been there, done that and am there now. I feel as though corporate America, the wealthy and GOP are punishing us older workers because they feel we voted against them, which is not a true assumption, and since voting is private, how would they even know?

  3. Susan Bonard-Bygrave says:

    I was unemployed for 6 months last year after my position was eliminated at the age of 58. It was the most stressful time of my life. Thankfully, I was able to get medical benefits under my husband’s plan. Many single people and single earner households are not so fortunate. My entire unemployment check went directly to our living expenses as we rely on my income so I can’t say it stimulated the economy because I spent no money on any extras. However, the benefits I received kept me from having to dip into my 401K as many are forced to do just to survive. Congress must extend unemployment benefits. If I had been forced to take any type of minimum wage job rather than keep up with a daily dedicated job search, I may have actually missed the posting for the job which I currently have. I met many talented and qualified people who had lost their jobs via outsourcing, downsizing, etc. while unemployed through Neighbors Helping Neighbors and the Ramsey Job Seekers Group in NJ. Every member was engaged in a serious job search, networking and skill building effort. Unemployment is not a vacation and it truly is much harder looking for a job than holding one. Unemployment benefits are a lifeline for people and without extending them, Congress is subjecting hard working people and their families to additional hardship. The new jobs being created are not comparable to the jobs that have been lost. Perhaps a tax credit for companies that create jobs with living wages for an educated and skilled workforce might be a better stimulus for the economy. The cost of such a program could be offset by a tax for every job that is off-shored or outsourced. The unemployed need the emergency benefits extended – now! America needs real jobs not minimum wage service jobs!

  4. Alfred says:

    What happens if you are over qualified for simple jobs and not qualified for some?
    I have a friend who had to delete his graduate education from his resume just to find a job

  5. Marilyn says:

    Good truthful article…I so agree with this, “The new jobs being created are not comparable to the jobs that have been lost. Perhaps a tax credit for companies that create jobs with living wages for an educated and skilled workforce might be a better stimulus for the economy. The cost of such a program could be offset by a tax for every job that is off-shored or outsourced.” You should have the politicians, who want to cut off unemployment, read this.

  6. Diana Miller says:

    We work with mature professionals who are often unemployed more than 6 months. They want to get back to work but run into a lot of road blocks. They cannot get the assistance they often need to update their skills or it seems age plays a factor. We do all we can to support their efforts but our dilemma is finding funding sources to do more in able to get them back to work faster. The programs that are suppose to help often find ways to screen them out so they don’t qualify for the things they need. Our system is broken and has been for a long time!

  7. Kelly Suchanek says:

    I’ve been unemployed since October 2013. I was laid off and immediately applied for re- employment compensation. It has been 3 months , excuse after excuse and I still have no determination as to if they are going to pay me. I claim my weeks every two weeks…. Actively job search…. It is maddening and frustrating.

  8. Susan Allen says:

    If every small business & every unemployed person knew this, we could reignite the US economy. I have worked this program with several businesses here in Oregon. The companies have sworn by it.

    To name a few:
    1. Beevers Medical Manufacturing – McMinnville, OR – Kate Beevers, President
    2. Dermac Labs Manufacturing – Salem, OR – Skip Liebertz, CEO
    3. Thinkplanet – Fullerton, CA / Salem, OR – Melissa Warner, CEO

    I would be happy to ask for testimonials from each. I give talks about this all the time locally. Many small businesses “think” they have tried this & that it didn’t work for them. They didn’t have the right guidance.

    The premise is that small businesses has few resources but could grow with a bit of help. In this case money & people are the shortage (which equals JOBS). The Federal & State governments are already funding via training programs. FOLLOW THE MONEY !

    If employees (by way of subsidized jobs) “Buy the first drink”, employers can usually find a way to grow revenue by reassigning tasks to free up those that can more effectively grow the business if they just had some relief in the amount of activities they were trying to complete.

    For example: in manufacturing – a production worker can be brought in via WE or JOBS PLUS. The current production worker can train the new person & move on to create a more efficient production process or have more time to negotiate with vendors, or work on a new product launch. This in turn may give the manager more time to plan, work with sales, or improve their product. The over all goal is always to increase sales which creates a healthier company, which can hire more and sell more.

    If potential employees, looking for a job (unemployed,) could explain to the prospective employer that they could be tried out at little or no cost – most employers would jump at the chance. All employee applicants are pre-screened by WorkSource. All employees are matched by a WorkSource manager to a particular company & position. The paperwork is simple & straight forward. Training leads to firing. At the least the employee gets a new skill & job on their resume that is now up to date. Minimally the employer gets to try out possible new employees at no cost other than the time it takes to train them – as they would need to do regardless.

    This is our tax dollars at work – doing something that works ! Let’s get behind it and make it work even better. Let’s jump start our small business – they are the backbone of a strong economy & a strong Middle Class. Let’s put our citizens BACK TO WORK !

  9. Karl Jaensch says:

    This is a nice article but I think it would be a good idea to identify and and respond to the real reasons why people become/remain long-term unemployed.

    I think it’s because long-term unemployed people are seen as relatively older, as not computer whiz kids like the ones who are hiring/not hiring, as needing/expecting a living wage, as settled into where they and their families live, and as possessors of job-specific skills/experience that are less important than newly-acquired skills brought into the workplace by fresh faces which groove with the fairly fresh faces that now run America’s largely service-focused businesses that facilitate/advise/coordinate/strategize/communicate/advertise/ etc. rather than produce anything tangible and specific.

    I think there’s also a suspicion that long-term unemployed workers might be harder to deal with than fresh new faces, partly because of the practical experience the long-term unemployed folks would bring and also maybe because the long-term unemployed might bring a tad of resentment into the workplace.

  10. Kino Yard says:

    I lost my job on Jan 1, 2013. I have PhD and have been trained as a research scientist in stem cell biology. People tell me that I am in a “hot” field. Last year I sent out 150 applications and had “phone” interviews at 15 places, and a face-to-face at one. At the face-to-face, I learned that I was competing against an internal candidate seeking a promotion. With the phone interviews, I feel that things go well but then I don’t get called in. With so many candidates, employers take a passing interest in out-of-state candidates, and then go back to the locals. In fact, one company told me that they will call in the local candidates first and if it didn’t work out, then they will reach out to me. I am keeping a journal of my job search. I am volunteering at my old job to keep my skills current. I am volunteering at a job club to teach others skills in resume writing, interviewing, job search, etc. I travel out of state to attend networking events, as painful as that is to my pocketbook. I take classes to better myself. And folks, that unemployment check is no incentive to stop job hunting. I do not have a smartphone or cable TV. I keep job hunting and hoping that my dumb phone will ring with the call from an employer before my Subaru with its leaky gaskit decides to go bust.

  11. Aly says:

    Ok, we got it, the congress wants the unemployment benefit dead as a door nail this year. Fine, but some sense of compassion and support be shown by passing this extension even for the last time to pave the way for the unemployed to aggressively search for jobs or training. This benefit will answer for daily commute, rent and putting food on the table , to mention a few. Just extend the benefit and we will be on the road to recovery and make that regular income… and be grateful, looking back, that we (hard working individuals) were not abandoned and left on the road to ruins…

  12. Leanne Rea says:

    To date, I have been gainfully underemployed for nine months. I say underemployed because when considering my salary, cost to get to work and time/wear and tear on the car (1+ hour commute one way), I can’t pay all my bills. This is better than where I was one year ago, having been unemployed for 2+ years. In that time, I searched for work, went back to school, and searched for work again. School did not create the “silver bullet” I thought it would and why would it when potential employers consider me to be unemployable because I’ve been unemployed for more than six months. (That is the standard timeframe for employers’ cut-off point.) For the last five months of my unemployment I was on the Social Services dime — and the word ‘dime’ truly says it. I was paid $35/week while a part of the Social Services set, hardly enough money to get yourself to training/networking opportunities and CERTAINLY not enough to live. Since I have always struggled to pay bills, my salary barely covering my expenses, I have always been part of the working poor. I never amassed a savings wealth to fall back on in hard times so when the hard times hit, they hit extremely hard. I have not paid my mortgage in over two years. My bank basically ignored me for some five years and helped to create the desperate situation I am in. I wonder where I would have been with housing had they have taken into consideration even ONE of my more than 10 inquiries in those five years. I will be without a home in the not too distant future. In my over 2+ years of unemployment, I submitted applications/resumes to countless employers – including part-time, per diem and temporary work in such fields as retail, daycare, nanny services, learning centers, etc. (I am by profession an administrative assistant and have nearly 30 years experience.) I was trying everything! I will say that I was blessed when I found the PSG CNJ in Somerville, NJ because not only could I learn from these remarkable, highly-skilled and polished individuals but I made some wonderful friendships and friendships that kept me sane and upbeat in a very depressing time of my life. This is what the numbers do not tell – the emotional toll on people who are vibrant and learned and skilled, being told they’re lazy, they’re too old to employ, they’ve been out of the job market for too long or they’re just not good enough. I could go on and on about my story but believe it or not, I’m actually luckier than many in that I must continue to look for work (employment that can afford ALL of my bills) while still having a job. This one factor makes all the difference in the world to potentail employers because I am once again considered to be employable and that means my next potential employer is much more apt to consider me for the right position.

  13. Susan Alexander says:

    I had a career for 30 years. So I’m not this lazy person eho wanys to live unemployment. I can’t afford it. So I just wanted to say the people who are downing unemployment. Have they lost their job..
    Career. If not keep your opinion to yourself and pray the economy doesn’t affect them.

  14. Karen Szelest says:

    I started to work as a contract recruiter in 2007 for a major pharma company. When there was an opportunity for a full-time assignment I was overlooked even though my metrics were significantly higher than a younger candidate. I have worked contract for 7 years now. None of the assignments turned into full-time assignment. The work done was excellent; however, once goals were met, the assignment ended. As a past corporate human resources person I know factually that people 50+ are overlooked with younger candidates hired even though they are more qualified. The 50+ candidates are doubled discriminated against because they are unemployed and they are over 50+. Yes, there are those who do get jobs, but I think if an analysis was done, the facts would skew against 50+ candidates getting work in their field. For example, rather than collect unemployment, I worked an interim assignment not in my field just to stay employed. I do not know who the slackers are nor have I experienced one. Because I have worked contract work, it is viewed as a negative by recruiters because I worked contract! It doesn’t matter that I worked during this time. I have had to go thru 1/2 of my 401k to remain financially afloat. This is the reality of those who truly want to work.

  15. Al Davis says:

    I am a Historically Black College University black male graduate with a BA degree in Accounting with over 10+ years of professional Accounting experiences. I lived in Atlanta, GA for 12 years(my alma mater), DC for 7 years, Erie, PA(my hometown and totaling 20 years), and currently resides in NYC for 2 years. I have doing contract and temporary work during the time, attending training and several job fairs to remain marketable and employable. Yet I strongly feel many companies are privy to nepotism and cronyism and friends than qualified individuals with the so-called phone screening and “covert racism and discrimination. The workforce is still denial over “inequality” exists in this country. I KNOW I am not the only individual observing this. It is very frustrating putting forth efforts applying for job online, tapping into the hidden market market, and putting on a front going to the interviews knowing that another candidate has been already. It has been a constant struggle for the past 6 years claiming weekly unemployment DC and NY trying to pay for living expenses and student loans. When will there be an upfront honest discussion on race and immoral exists in the workforce?

  16. Mahi says:

    Hmm What happens if you are over qualified for simple jobs and not qualified for some?
    I have a friend who had to delete his graduate education from his resume just to find a job

  17. Injured says:

    I worked for 30 years. My last job ended do too discrimination and retaliation because of my work injury. I was making $5100 a month. My employer discriminated against me because of my disability. After not reporting my income from workers compensation. I was taken off payroll and left to die. When I applied for Unemployment do to no fault of mine. I was told no income was reported except 3000. I was only getting $125 a week on my extension. I was happy to just have that much to buy food for my kids. This stereo typing has to stop! Everyone is human and we all have a different meaning!

  18. James says:

    Unemployment rates are now reducing in USA .Yes peoples who work in Finance and Stock markets or exchanges does not need any allowances for the future.These peoples must be already earned for their lifetime .

  19. 52 and too old says:

    Out of work for 6 months 1 interview second one this week for a 19.00 per hour job ( Was making 70,000 .
    afe discrimination is alive and well in America. Have a nursing degree and since losing my job 3 years ago its been tough getting a job long term.
    Im too old and experienced , no one wants to pay me. Very sad and frustrating.

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