Tomorrow will mark eight months since I was laid off. This means that I have been among the ranks of the “long-term unemployed” for two months now.
I suppose that a recent pair of articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times should make me feel better about my unsuccessful job hunt. Paul Krugman and Matt O’Brien assure me that it’s not my fault. As it turns out, I’m just unlucky.
O’Brien ran a regression analysis that shows that becoming long-term employed is largely a product of being laid off at the wrong time. Apparently, if you lose your job when the economy is bad, you may be out of work for a very long time. If you lose your job when the economy is good, another company is likely to pick you up in short order.
This seems like common sense to me. When the economy is bad, your employer is suffering and you’re more likely to lose your job. But all the other employers are suffering too, so you’re not likely to find another one. Lose your job when the economy is good and, big deal, the company next door and the one down the street are both hiring.
Despite the appeal of this logic, this theory hasn’t panned out for me personally. O’Brien states that you were really out of luck if you lost your job in 2009, when unemployment peaked at 10% nationally. If you were laid off in that year, he says, you had a 30% chance of becoming long-term unemployed.
Well, it just happens that I lost my job in 2009. It took me eight months to find another, so technically I had slipped into the ranks of the long-term unemployed, proving out O’Brien’s theory. What did I do to find that job? For one thing, I filed 133 job applications in a total of 26 states.
After working at that job for three years and three months, I was laid off in the fall of 2013. While the economy was not what one would consider wonderful at that time, it was a lot better than it was in 2009. As I have been making just as concerted an effort to find another job as I did last time around, under O’Brien’s theory I would have expected to find work by now. But it hasn’t turned out that way for me, or apparently, for anyone else.
“There’s never been this much long-term unemployment before, at least not since they started keeping records in 1948,” states O’Brien. “Right now, 35 percent of all unemployed people have been out of work for at least six months.” This figure reflects the fact that many who lost their jobs in 2009 are still unemployed in 2014. By comparison, I was lucky.
So what of all my fellow “2009ers” whose job search efforts have been in vain and who have remained out of work until this day? They have now been unemployed for five years, which is forever in the job market. Their skills are no longer current, and their prospects of securing employment have dwindled right along with their self-esteem. Not to mention the fact that prospective employers discriminate against them for that incriminating gap in their résumés. Because they drew the short straw by becoming unemployed at the wrong time, they are likely to remain unemployed forever. These people are forced into retirement, making a national economic recovery more difficult with the permanent loss of their skills.
“It’s the economy, stupid!” writes Krugman in his Times opinion piece. Running the numbers gives the lie to “the alternate story, which is that the long-term unemployed are workers with a problem.” This, of course, is code for lazy, stupid, can’t follow basic rules, don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, aren’t trying hard enough, would rather live off a government check, etc. These are the kinds of qualities that conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives attribute to the long-term unemployed and use an excuse for denying unemployment benefit extensions. The fact that none of this is true doesn’t seem to matter. It is a little too convenient for them to ignore the fact that there simply aren’t enough jobs to go around and that, ultimately, the economy is the cause of so much long-term unemployment.
But Congress would prefer that we stop confusing them with the facts.