The Layers of Unemployment Remain Hidden

Unemployment.(Photo: Danielle Scott / Flickr)Nearly 12 million Americans struggle daily with employment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The number of unemployed persons, at 11.3 million, and the unemployment rate, at 7.3 percent, changed little in October. … The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little changed at 4.1 million in October. These individuals accounted for 36.1 percent of the unemployed.” The unemployment rate has fluctuated between 7.9 percent and 7.2 percent for the first 10 months of 2013.

Baby boomers, Generation X’ers and Millennials have become victims in this treacherous job market. Since the recession began, many have been forced to look for part-time employment, accepting a decrease in salary, or have decided to continue their education because job opportunities weren’t available. But statistics fail to mention the large numbers of citizens who have given up their job searches.

On average, it takes 45 weeks for a baby boomer to regain employment. Companies are more reluctant to hire an older worker after they’ve been unemployed for more than six months. Most of them fear that baby boomers have lost their skill sets and value. For Generation X’ers and Millennials, the prospects of finding employment opportunities aren’t much better. It takes them roughly 37 weeks to regain employment.

Numerous jobs in different disciplines require years of experience – which disqualifies recent college graduates from entering the work force in a timely fashion. As a result, this hampers their ability to become self-sufficient and attain upward mobility.

According to some economic experts, this mediocre job “growth” – inadequate to merely absorb new market entrants – will continue unless the government takes steps to improve prospects for the long-term unemployed.

The Washington Post’s Brad Plumer recently wrote, “Back in 2007, 66 percent of Americans had a job or were actively seeking work. Today, that number is at 63.2 percent – the lowest level since 1978. … To put this in perspective: If the same percentage of adults were in the workforce today as when Barack Obama took office, the unemployment rate would be 10.8 percent.”

Those numbers are discouraging to say the least.

But there is a larger issue looming for unemployed workers. Because of Congressional dysfunction, the federally funded Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program will lose its funding if Congress doesn’t agree to renew it by the end of this year. Congressional inaction could result in grave consequences for 2.1 million citizens.

At the end of 2013, 1.3 million people will lose their unemployment benefits. By March 2014, an additional 850,000 won’t qualify for an extension of federal benefits under the EUC program. In some states, unemployment benefit extensions have been canceled indefinitely.

The EUC program was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008 to provide a safety net for unemployed workers who exhausted their original state benefits after 26 weeks. The program will lose $2.4 billion this year because of sequestration cuts. These baleful cuts continue to place economic burdens on those citizens who can least afford it.

In September 2013, I lost my job and was granted unemployment benefits, but a few months later they were cut by 14.2 percent because of sequestration. I had to make a request for two unemployment deferments from the company that has consolidated my student loans. Luckily, I had that option to help me get by. I went from getting $335 per week in unemployment benefits to $288 per week after sequestration. Applying for a plethora of jobs and not receiving a simple call back was utterly frustrating. During the ten months I was unemployed, I had two in-person job interviews and three phone interviews. Fortunately, I was able to obtain a part-time writing assistant position.

But that’s still not enough.

Every week, people share similar stories on what they’re going through in this abhorrent economic climate. For most Americans, it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better in the near future. Families have more questions than answers. The Obama administration’s top priority through 2014 should be job creation.

If the partisanship in the halls of Congress doesn’t come to an end, the United States could be on the verge of another Great Depression. The average American worker deserves better than what we’re getting from our Congressmen and senators. Substantial improvements are needed from a federal level to quell the ills of our fragile economy.

In the words of Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish historian, “A man willing to work, and unable to find work, is perhaps the saddest sight that fortune’s inequality exhibits under this sun.”