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Prospects bleak for long-term unemployed

Job seekers sit at computers looking for jobs available at a Workforce One Employment Solutions center on January 7, 2014 in North Miami, Florida.

Job prospects are improving for some American workers. Reports show that companies are hiring more staff. Still, there are more Americans unemployed now than at any time since World War II. And prospects for the long-term unemployed are especially bad.

Consider Charlene Goetzfried. After working at a Denver manufacturing plant for 14 years, she got laid off. That was three years ago. She’s been applying for jobs ever since.

“I’ve been applying for housekeeping, caretakers. I applied for Denver public schools as a food server,” says Goetzfried.

One potential employer keeps stringing her along.

“Every time I call them, they keep telling me, ‘We’re going to hire next month. We’re going to hire next month.’ And I’ve heard that since October,” says Goetzfried.

Sadly, all the evidence suggests that applicants look less attractive to employers the longer they’ve been out of the workforce.

“Long-term joblessness seems to bring a stigma and causes employers to overlook the other qualifications that might make these people very good fits for their job openings,” says Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution.

What can the government do about the problem?

“We should help the long–term unemployed relocate,” says Michael Strain, a resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute. The government could pay to move workers who are stuck in states where there are no jobs. Strain says, “Instead of continuing to just cut you checks, maybe it makes sense to offer you a relocation voucher.”

In the short-term, Congress is more likely to extend federal unemployment benefits.

But that wouldn’t help Charlene Goetzfried. Her unemployment benefits have already expired.

“Now that I don’t get that my husband is having to work a lot of overtime,” says Goetzfried.

Goetzfried is 60 years old. She hopes her working years are not behind her. In the meantime, she volunteers. It’s something, at least, that she can stick on her résumé.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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