Long-Term Unemployed Face Tough Odds Of Getting New Jobs

Apr 3, 2014

The Labor Department releases March jobs numbers tomorrow. Economists expect relatively good news with payrolls expected to rise by 200,000 in March.

But the outlook for the long-term unemployed is still murky. A recent Brookings Institution paper found that only 11 percent of the long-term unemployed find work again a year later.

Annalyn Kurtz, economics writer for CNNMoney, joins Here & Now’s Robin Young. She has the story of several people who were able to beat the odds and find jobs.


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From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW.

Spring is here, and the job market may be warming up. Economists are expecting a small uptick in the number of people hired in March as opposed to February. But the outlook for the long-term unemployed is pretty dire. A recent Brookings Institution report found that only 11 percent of the long-term unemployed find a full-time job within a year.

But Annalyn Kurtz, economics writer for CNNMoney, has found some of those people. She joins us from New York with more. And, Annalyn, is there something general that people have in common who sort of beat the odds on long-term unemployment and get a job?

ANNALYN KURTZ: Well, I'll tell you what, Robin. They all have a very positive attitude. They just keep applying for job after job, even after being rejected over and over again. And that's the common attitude I encounter with the people who are successful. But as we know, there are about four million Americans who have been unemployed for more than six months, and the longer they're unemployed, their odds of getting a job decline very dramatically. So having that positive attitude and just keep trying, that's what got these people jobs.

YOUNG: Well, and maybe also widening your search to something you thought maybe might have been beneath you previously. Let's talk about some of the people you met. 39-year-old Erica Arrington of Chicago, Illinois, was laid off from Chipotle how - was a long time without a job. How long and how is she doing now?

KURTZ: Well, so Erica had worked her way up Chipotle's ladder for about six years until she was a manager, making decent money. She lost her job in May last year, and she was unemployed for eight months. I talked to her around Christmas time, and at that point, she was worried she couldn't afford to buy presents for her three teenage daughters. She found a job in January at an Old Country Buffet. She's a manager there, overseeing the restaurant. And she's very happy now. She's getting paid overtime. As long as she makes the overtime, she's making around what she was before, so she's happy about that. But a lot of the other people I talked to, they had to take jobs that were reduced hours or reduced wages from what they were earning before.

YOUNG: Well, tell us about one of those.

KURTZ: Sure. So I talked with Fred Royal, and he's a 40-year-old from Houston. He was an administrative assistant. And he sort of felt like an odd one out already because he was a man in a female-dominated job. He was unemployed for nine months. And when he started looking for jobs, he wanted something that paid around $40-, $45,000 a year, what he was earning in his prior position. He was unemployed for a very long time. His federal benefits ran out. And after that, he had to lower his standards.

He took something that paid a lot less. It wasn't in his field. He now is working as a collector for a financial services company. And in his extra time, he's enrolled in school, some online courses. He's trying to beef up his computer skills, and he hopes that that will help his career track in the future.

YOUNG: It's interesting because he tells us about a somewhat older worker. You know, 40 is pretty young except if you're competing with 30-year-olds. And he's decided to take the lower paying job but also maybe improve his skills. Then we've got 56-year-old Michelle Marshall of Beverly, New Jersey. Lost her job as an administrative assistant at the end of 2012. These are all, by the way, at your website. But she felt like she was encountering age discrimination. How much of that was a part of the workers who were long-time unemployed, trying to get back in the force?

KURTZ: Oh, a lot of people who write to me have lost jobs who are in their 50s, early 60s. They definitely feel like age discrimination is a big reason why they're not finding jobs. So for Michelle, she had been unemployed for over a year. And she found a job in February, finally, as an office manager. But again, it was part-time, even though she had hoped to work full-time. And that's a problem that's affecting a lot of people now.

YOUNG: Yeah. Annalyn Kurtz of CNNMoney. We'll link you to all of these stories. They're anecdotal, but as she said, if part of getting a job after long-term unemployment is boosting your spirits, these stories will at the very least. And you can also see how some people made choices that might have been, you know, beneath them, but they are very happy that they did. Annalyn Kurtz, thanks so much for talking to us.

KURTZ: Thank you.

YOUNG: You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.