This might not be a big deal if these jobs were coming back, or if we were seeing growth in sectors that these displaced workers could shift to. But that’s not happening either. According to a recent study by the liberal Urban Institute, nearly five million workers are now considered ‘long-term unemployed,’ and nearly one million more have stopped looking for work completely - most of them, men.
The ramifications for these workers are severe. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently spelled out just how hard it is for the long-term unemployed get back to their former earnings level. For many, it’s impossible. Workers don’t just suddenly lose a job one day; long before they enter into long-term unemployment, they start to see their wages fall. They drop by an average of more than seventeen percent from two years before their unemployment spell to the year after it began.
Even four years after the start of the long-term unemployment period, average hourly wages are still seven percent down from their level years before. So this trauma doesn’t begin the day they lose a job and end when they start working; for many families, this is a lost decade. Even years later, they deal with earnings losses, earnings volatility, and later periods of job loss. That doesn’t even begin to count the effect on family finances, sense of self-worth, raising of children, and the damage it can do to a marriage.
Is there anything we can do? We can start by looking deeper into the data. The increased role of women in the workforce is great – to the extent that it represents a choice, rather than a last resort. But policymakers in Washington shouldn’t try to hide the fact that many people are just trying to cope with an awful job market. Instead of sitting back and boasting about an economic recovery, workers and families need a bipartisan push for real, self-sustaining private sector job creation. Government stimulus has not worked – the numbers show it. It’s time for a new approach – one that empowers job creators and helps families to choose the model that works best for them.