Lowering long-term joblessness


There was a precious moment Thursday at the White House, as first lady Michelle Obama hosted “Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work Day” for children of executive branch employees.

During the question-answer portion of the event, Mrs. Obama called upon 10-year-old Charlotte Bell to ask a question. But instead of posing a question, precocious young Charlotte told the first lady: “My Dad’s been out of job for three years, and I wanted to give you his resume.”

“Oh my goodness,” said Mrs. Obama, giving the little girl a hug.

Charlotte’s dad has been trying to land a policy-related job for several years, but to no avail. Indeed, not even his previous work on the 2012 Obama presidential campaign has borne fruit. So Charlotte’s mom, an executive branch employee, has assumed the role of breadwinner.

The Bell family dramatizes the continued problem of long-term unemployment in America.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this month that the ranks of the long-term unemployed (those jobless at least 27 weeks) numbered 3.7 million in March — a disquieting 35.8 percent of the nation’s 10.5 million unemployed.

Ominously, long-term joblessness has gotten slightly worse so far in 2014. In March, there were nearly 100,000 more Americans — like Charlotte’s dad — who have been without a job for at least 27 weeks than there were in January. That explains why, five years into the Obama recovery, the nation’s long-term unemployment rate remains near the highest level reached since 1983.

The real danger for the 3.7 million long-term jobless is what economist Rand Ghayad termed the “jobless trap.” That is: the longer they are unemployed, the more likely they are to remain that way.

And even those who manage to escape the trap often fall back into it. That was the finding of a paper authored by former White House chief economist Alan Krueger, and published by the Brookings Institution.

Analyzing data from 2008-13, Mr. Krueger found that only 36 percent of long-term unemployed workers who managed to find work were still in a job 15 months later. And only 11 percent were in steady, full-time jobs.

So, what can be done to drive down the long-term unemployment rate; to reduce repeated joblessness?

We believe the very best thing for the long-term unemployed is a growing economy with robust job creation. Indeed, it is no coincidence that, over the past quarter century, long-term joblessness declined the most during 1997-2000, when the gross domestic product increased by more than 4 percent a year.

Regrettably, GDP has grown at an annual rate of less than 2 percent on President Obama’s watch. If he could somehow improve that economic performance to where it was in 1997-2000, there would be so many jobs created that the long-term unemployed would see greater demand for their labor.

— From the Orange County Register

 

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