The fact that unemployment has been so high for so long has created a terrible reality for many Americans. Many employers simply won’t consider hiring someone who has been out of work for more than six months.
This has created an ugly dichotomy in the labor market. Really, it has created two separate labor markets: one for those who are recently unemployed and another for those who have been unemployed for a lengthy period of time. Those in the former category wouldn’t argue they are in perfect shape but for the most part they are being given an even shake in the the job application process. Those in the latter category, however, are learning that they need not apply for many positions. Their careers have been severely damaged by their long-term period of unemployment.
This was the conclusion of recent research by Rand Ghayad, a visiting scholar at the Boston Federal Reserve and William Dickens, a professor of economics at Northeastern University. Ghayad and Dickens’ study looked at Beveridge curves for different ages, industries, and education levels to see who the recovery is leaving behind. The results clearly showed that the likelihood of you getting a job drops dramatically once you have been out of work for more than six months. The results held true regardless of whether you’re young or old, a blue-collar or white-collar worker, or a high school or college grad; all that matters is how long you’ve been out of work. Read more about the study here.
The studies show what many of us who work in this area have known for a long time, it is much easier to find a job from a job or from recent unemployment than it is after you have been out of work for a long period of time. The long and the short of it is that employers (whether consciously or unconsciously) discriminate against the long-term unemployed. Employers think that a long period of unemployment indicates that there must be something wrong with a job candidate, even if it doesn’t reveal itself in the intake or interview process. In fact, the study shows that employers tend to hire newly unemployed candidates over long-term unemployed candidates even when the candidates’ relative objective qualifications for the job dramatically weigh in favor of the long-term unemployed candidate.
So what is the solution? Some favor statutory protection of the long-term unemployed as a protected class. Some favor tax breaks for employers who hire candidates who have been unemployed for a longer length of time. Would these proposals work? I really don’t know.
But what I do know is that this is a very real problem that is likely to last at least until the economy achieves another broad "boom" period. And from what I read, this could be a long time. Perhaps at the very least, those who make hiring decisions and those who advise such decision makers can be made more aware of this issue. Let’s start talking about this problem.
We already run our hiring decisions through a myriad of checklists to make sure we aren’t favoring a candidate because of his or her gender, race, etc. Why not take another look and make sure that we aren’t unfairly holding someone’s long-term unemployment against them either. After all, a job candidate who is still out hitting the bricks after more than six months of unemployment may have just the sort of tenacity and follow-through that your company needs.