What Are Your Chances of Finding a Job? Slim and Growing Slimmer

a not hiring sign in English and Spanish - finding a jobIf 2010 was the year of joblessness, 2011 may become the year that that joblessness became intractable. Recently released Department of Labor stats paint a grim picture for the long-term unemployed.

In a nutshell: Those out of work for five weeks have a monthly re-employment rate of 31%. For those out of work for a full year, that re-employment rate falls to 8.7%. And for those who are members of the 99ers club (having collected the maximum allowable 99 weeks of unemployment benefits), their chances of finding a job are about as good as that of a sewer rat's. OK, those are my words, not the Labor Department's. But why mince them?As Annie Lowrey writes in Slate, the longer you are unemployed, the thinner becomes the government's assistance. Some states offer various assistance programs, but the feds even stop counting you as being unemployed once you've collected the maximum allowable weeks of benefits. By the way, those unemployment benefits kept 3.3 million people out of poverty in 2009, says the Economic Policy Institute.

And while there is a ton of buzz about how 2011 looks good for a recovery, that recovery may not alter the course of the lives of the long-term unemployed. Studies have shown that the longer someone remains jobless, well, the longer they will be jobless. Why? Because their work skills become rusty, they exhaust their business networks, and they become distracted -- consumed? -- by the fallout from their financial predicament. Who can muster a happy interview face when they woke up to the bank's debt collection department wanting to know when the mortgage payment was sent?

Here's another news flash: Unemployed people apparently eat fewer vegetables. While I'm not sure why good money was spent studying this, it was. The National Bureau of Economic Research, the same fine fellows who proclaimed to a guffawing nation that the recession ended in June 2009, let it be known that unemployed people have a "reduced consumption of fruits and vegetables" and increased consumption of "unhealthy" foods such as snacks and fast food. Maybe someone can silence these fools already and until that happens, please pass the chips.

Depressing as it is, the federal government doesn't seem to have a grasp on how to handle the millions of unemployed workers who will simply age out of the labor market or get left behind any recovery because their skills don't match those of the jobs being created. Dollar General stores just announced it is creating 6,000 new jobs. Would all you PhDs living in your mothers' basements like to go and apply?

What the government could and should do is create broad-based retraining programs and public service projects. Don't just fix potholes, weatherize every home in America and put an aide in every classroom. Don't just write checks to the banks telling them to modify our loans so we can keep our houses, make them reduce the principal on our home loans and start actually lending some money again. Don't dole out stimulus money to city governments while they lay people off; make them create jobs to get it.

Sure it would be expensive, but so is mopping up the mess of 25 million under- and unemployed people, many of whom are without health care and haven't been eating their vegetables.
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