A Real Account of Long-Term Unemployment

It’s been awhile since we’ve reported on efforts to solve the nation’s long-term-unemployment problem. (Here are our HRE Daily posts 505475762 -- unemployment2and here are our HREOnline.com news analyses examining the problem and what can and should be done about it.)

Just recently, though, I came across an interesting write-up on the U.S. Department of Labor site about a panel discussion that was held in New Brunswick, N.J., on the topic.

The panelists, themselves, caught my eye: DOL Secretary Thomas E. Perez was leading the long-term-unemployment discussion, joined by former N.J. Gov. Jim Florio and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey’s 6th District. Those who attended shared story after story of “devastation as they continue to look for employment to support their families,” the write-up says.

Which gets me to what was most interesting about the DOL release: the write-up and writer, themselves. Kevin Meyer, a public-affairs specialist at the DOL, wrote mostly about himself in response to what attendees were sharing. In his words,

“Those stories felt too familiar. In January 2014, I was one of the nation’s then nearly 3.6 million long-term unemployed. I was 52 and had spent two of the previous three years jobless. The great recession hit everyone hard, but older workers like me had a particularly tough time bouncing back.

“Even now as the overall unemployment rate [falls] below 5 percent for the first time since 2008, more than 2 million people have been out of work for more than six months. Today, the typical duration of unemployment for workers between 45 and 64 is still about a month longer than it is for younger workers.

“Ask someone — a relative, friend or neighbor — who is unemployed at this age, you hear the same things. Endless applications, unreturned calls, useless job searches, financial losses, anger, guilt and fear.”

Although he goes on, and in great detail, to tell his own harrowing story of being in the long-term-unemployed ranks for years before coming to the DOL’s Office of Public Affairs, he does also mention his agency’s Ready to Work grants — where and how well they’re working — and the fact that Perez had come to hear about New Jersey’s success with them.

But most of what he shared was impressive and moving, and I commend him for taking this tack. Full disclosure: Perez did ask Meyer to share his story at the roundtable. But he didn’t have to write it all down — which he did and did well. Case in point:

“Like those I met [in a previous roundtable on long-term unemployment, held in Washington, with Perez presiding there as well], I was desperate. I was fearful for my family; knowing that I would soon lose my home without more than another temporary job.

“I introduced myself and shared my work history of two decades as a writer and communications professional. My words then turned blunt, in typical New Jersey fashion. ‘Mr. Secretary, I must tell you that I battled an aggressive form of cancer into remission in 2006. As difficult as my cancer was, long-term unemployment has been worse,’ I shared, in a hushed conference room, trying to bury my emotion. ‘If I failed to beat cancer, my family had my company insurance and would have been cared for. If I fail to beat unemployment, I will leave them with nothing.’ “

We sometimes forget — as we write and read about joblessness, and unemployment rates, and layoffs, and older workers out of work — that for every number, there is a person there, struggling through pieces of a life event we will never know unless we go through it ourselves.

Thanks to a very different kind of press release, a tiny window was opened here, at least for me. For any employer hesitant to hire someone from these ranks, I’d say this is a must-read.

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