The Renewal Awards

The Long-Term Unemployment Trap

The longer someone has gone without a job, the harder it is for them to land one. These programs have figured a way back into work.

Great Depression
National Journal
April 21, 2015, 7:39 a.m.

Eco­nom­ists like to say that the Great Re­ces­sion tech­nic­ally ended years ago, but that wonky de­lin­eation is of little com­fort to the 2.6 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans who have been out of work for six months or more. This pop­u­la­tion, known as the “long-term un­em­ployed,” has had great trouble re-en­ter­ing the labor mar­ket. Even though their ranks have thinned since 2010, they still face dis­crim­in­a­tion in ap­ply­ing for jobs.

Older people, Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans, and His­pan­ics re­main dis­pro­por­tion­ately among the long-term un­em­ployed; from 2007 to 2009, so did work­ers from spe­cif­ic in­dus­tries such as sales and man­age­ment, ac­cord­ing to re­cent re­search from the Labor Stat­ist­ics Bur­eau. Even a col­lege de­gree was not enough, at the height of the re­ces­sion, to stave off long-term un­em­ploy­ment. What a ter­ri­fy­ing wake-up call to any­one who thought that high­er edu­ca­tion would pro­tect them from an eco­nom­ic mis­hap.

So, what can be done to help this pop­u­la­tion as the eco­nomy re­turns to a health­i­er state? A hand­ful of pro­grams across the coun­try show that the long-term un­em­ployed can be­ne­fit from spe­cif­ic in­ter­ven­tions, which take in­to ac­count either the needs of the un­em­ployed or the needs of the com­pan­ies that might hire them. An MIT pro­gram, for in­stance, of­fers coun­sel­ing to older, out-of-work people in an ef­fort to ac­know­ledge the emo­tion­al scars of un­em­ploy­ment. Peer-led job-net­work­ing groups have proved to be a salve for work­ers in New Jer­sey, while a Chica­go not-for-profit works closely with loc­al busi­nesses to identi­fy po­s­i­tions they need to fill as well as out-of-work can­did­ates who can do those jobs.

With this cri­ter­ia in mind, we’ve re­viewed dozens of pro­grams ded­ic­ated to help­ing the long-term un­em­ployed re­turn to work. Here are the 10 we be­lieve are the most in­nov­at­ive.

Dog Tag Bakery: A re­cent study by the Wounded War­ri­ors Pro­ject showed that roughly 17 per­cent of the pro­gram’s alums re­main un­em­ployed, and it’s true that un­em­ploy­ment re­mains a huge is­sue for re­turn­ing com­bat vet­er­ans. That’s why a new, up­scale bakery in the Geor­getown neigh­bor­hood of Wash­ing­ton, D.C., is try­ing to help this pop­u­la­tion by em­ploy­ing wounded vet­er­ans and their spouses; it teaches them bak­ing skills, along­side with small-busi­ness train­ing. The bakery was foun­ded by Fath­er Rick Curry and Con­nie Mil­stein, and is man­aged by an Army vet­er­an.

See Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s in-depth pro­file of Dog Tag Bakery here. 

In­sti­tute for Ca­reer Trans­itions: In the years fol­low­ing the glob­al fin­an­cial re­ces­sion, MIT pro­fess­or and so­ci­olo­gist, Ofer Shar­one, wanted to fig­ure out a way to help the long-term un­em­ployed, es­pe­cially older work­ers. So, Shar­one star­ted a new in­sti­tute out of MIT to ad­dress the emo­tion­al dis­tress of a job search as well as its nuts and bolts. In its first ma­jor pro­ject, the in­sti­tute paired un­em­ployed people with free, trained ca­reer coun­selors in in­di­vidu­al and group set­tings. The ini­tial re­search shows that this type of in­ter­ven­tion (and at­ten­tion to work­ers’ self-es­teem) can make a big dif­fer­ence. The long-term goal is to de­vel­op a great­er sense of how to as­sist the long-term un­em­ployed and to be­come a mini-clear­ing­house for this in­form­a­tion.

See Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s in-depth pro­file of the In­sti­tute for Ca­reer Trans­itions here

Neigh­bors-Help­ing-Neigh­bors: A loc­al New Jer­sey res­id­ent, a long-term un­em­ployed per­son him­self, star­ted this grass­roots, peer-led net­work­ing group across the state of New Jer­sey. The group star­ted out as just a loc­al sup­port meet-up be­fore ex­pand­ing to 40 chapters, with a ro­bust on­line pres­ence. Both the group and its founder have ac­ted as power­ful ad­voc­ates—all the way to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to ad­voc­ate for policies to help out this vul­ner­able pop­u­la­tion.

See Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s in-depth pro­file of Neigh­bors-Help­ing-Neigh­bors here

New York Self Em­ploy­ment As­sist­ance Pro­gram: One prob­lem with un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance be­ne­fits is that they come with strict eli­gib­il­ity re­quire­ments. Un­em­ployed people must look for work full-time, if they’re go­ing to col­lect the money. But, New York state of­fers an in­nov­at­ive pro­gram that al­lows un­em­ployed people to build their own small busi­nesses while still col­lect­ing un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance and without hav­ing to look for an­oth­er job. It gives them the safety net of hav­ing some money to sup­port them­selves, while set­ting up shop as a self-em­ployed per­son. The pro­gram par­tic­u­larly tries to tar­get people likely to ex­haust their un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits.

See Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s in-depth pro­file of the New York Self Em­ploy­ment As­sist­ance Pro­gram here.

Plat­form to Em­ploy­ment: This pro­gram first launched in Con­necti­c­ut in 2011 as a pi­lot to help the long-term un­em­ployed. Since then, it has ex­pan­ded to 10 cit­ies, in­clud­ing Las Ve­gas, through a mix of private and fed­er­al fund­ing. Es­sen­tially, the pro­gram takes a group of long-term un­em­ployed people and puts them through ser­i­ous five-week, in­tens­ive job-read­i­ness courses. Plat­form to Em­ploy­ment will pay up to two months of a work­er’s salary for any com­pany will­ing to hire these work­ers, even on a tri­al basis.

Power­Path­way: Nearly half of the coun­try’s skilled util­ity and en­ergy work­ers will need to be re­placed by 2015, thanks to work­ers’ re­tire­ments. That’s why the en­ergy com­pany, Pa­cific Gas and Elec­tric, star­ted a 10-week pro­gram back in 2008 to train its next gen­er­a­tion of skilled work­ers. They’ve looked to the un­em­ployed, un­der­em­ployed, and vet­er­ans to fill the slots. The com­pany trains people for weld­ing, line work, and gas op­er­a­tions; entry-level po­s­i­tions can pay as much as $26 per hour, plus over­time.

Re­lo­ca­tion Sub­sidies: Wash­ing­ton polit­ics may suf­fer from ter­rible grid­lock, but politi­cians from both the right and left sup­port an in­ter­est­ing idea of of­fer­ing re­lo­ca­tion sub­sidies to the long-term un­em­ployed to help them move from one area of high un­em­ploy­ment to a place with a bet­ter job mar­ket. A 2010 pa­per from the Hamilton Pro­ject at Brook­ings es­tim­ates that re­lo­ca­tion sub­sidies would cost the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment less than $1 bil­lion a year and would res­ult in as many as 62,000 matches between work­ers and new jobs.

Skills for Chica­go­land’s Fu­ture: This non­profit group, built as a pub­lic-private part­ner­ship, tries to match un­em­ployed work­ers with busi­nesses that have par­tic­u­lar po­s­i­tions to fill. They either match up the qual­i­fied out-of-work per­son with a job, or some­times, the group will help to train work­ers for par­tic­u­lar po­s­i­tions. Since 2012, the group has placed more than 1,300 work­ers in new jobs in more than 40 com­pan­ies in the Chica­go area. What’s more, 70 per­cent of those place­ments were for people who were long-term un­em­ployed. The non­profit is try­ing to upend the idea of tra­di­tion­al job place­ment by fo­cus­ing first of the types of work­ers that loc­al com­pan­ies need, in­stead of train­ing work­ers for jobs they hope will ex­ist in the fu­ture.

See Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s in-depth pro­file of Skills for Chica­go­land’s Fu­ture here

The Mis­sion Con­tin­ues: Foun­ded in 2007 by a former Navy SEAL, this St. Louis non­profit helps post 9/11-era vet­er­ans re­con­nect to the work­force by help­ing them find com­munity-ser­vice fel­low­ships. The paid, six-month fel­low­ships at vari­ous com­munity-ser­vice or­gan­iz­a­tions al­low the vet­er­ans to get back in­to a work routine and back in­to ci­vil­ian life.

Work-Share Pro­grams: At the height of the re­ces­sion, a hand­ful of states across the coun­try took on an in­nov­at­ive ex­per­i­ment—in­stead of just watch­ing loc­al com­pan­ies lay off work­ers, these states tem­por­ar­ily agreed to pay a por­tion of work­ers’ salar­ies at strug­gling com­pan­ies in an ef­fort to keep as many people in the work­force as pos­sible. Rhode Is­land was among the states to ex­per­i­ment with this pro­gram and es­tim­ates that it saved more than 15,000 jobs dur­ing the Great Re­ces­sion.

Cor­rec­tion: An earli­er ver­sion of this art­icle mis­stated who foun­ded Dog Tag Bakery.

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