There’s a powerlessness that comes with long-term unemployment. I think of it as a quiet desperation, an urgent need to find work coupled with a frustrating inability to make that happen.
The unemployment rate has been above 8 percent for so long – 3½ years! – that you might forget that, only a few years ago, things were much better. From 2001-2009, unemployment averaged a little over 5 percent.
We who can’t find work can’t forget. The true ravages of this destructively lengthy period of high unemployment may not be obvious to someone who’s not personally affected, but they are to us. We live with them. Yet at least based on my observations, most of the mainstream media prefer to keep us hidden, putting as positive a spin as possible on America’s rampant joblessness. The nightly news and daily papers aren’t filled with Baby Boomers’ stories of loss.
One notable exception to this is a recent article in USA Today entitled “What Do Jobless Do When Unemployment Checks Run Out?”
Benefits are running out for more people now because state and federal governments are ending the multiple extensions of benefits that had allowed collection of up to 99 weeks of benefits. This article accurately reflects the sad devastation being wreaked upon the lives of people in our 50s and 60s.
Why don’t the long-term unemployed get more attention? Maybe it’s because we don’t have much political clout; we can’t afford to support candidates’ campaigns. We can’t influence politics and policy the way unions or Wall Streeters or environmentalists can. We’re just numbers on a sheet of paper, manipulated month after month to the advantage of one political party or another.
And our numbers are huge. Did you know that the “U6” unemployment rate – the rate that includes those of us who want to work but have given up looking or who’ve settled for working less than full-time because that’s all we can find – is 15 percent? That’s 23.5 million people as of July,according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
I think the long-term unemployed live in a kind of alternate reality from the rest of Americans. This struck me again last weekend, when I visited with some friends I hadn’t seen in awhile. One of them has worked for the same company for more than 30 years. We got to talking about my unemployment and she asked me if I’d applied for any jobs at her company. I told her that, while I do look at the jobs posted there, they usually require very specific experience that I don’t have.
“But your skills are transferable,” she said to me earnestly. She believes, as I once did, that you should be able to grow into a job, to learn on the job. She’s still got that old pre-Great Recession mindset.
My friend had no idea that, when there are so many candidates per job opening, a company’s online application system will screen you out and auto-reject you if you don’t precisely meet the specified criteria. At least at companies that use these computerized systems, there’s not much point in applying for a job for which you aren’t nearly a perfect match.
So while the long-term unemployed hang on and wait for the economic recovery promised by the political party currently out of power, we continue our quietly desperate search for work. I see the signs in my own search, where I’m doing things like:
- Applying for a job for which I’m clearly not qualified just to be able to apply for something (“It’s close enough”)
- Applying for a job for which I’m way overqualified (“Surely I can get THIS one”)
- Continuing to check for weeks, even months, on the status of a job for which I’ve been interviewed, but for which I haven’t actually been turned down
I see myself grasping at the tiniest shreds of hope when, in the past, it would be obvious to my more rational self that these efforts are unlikely to produce the desired results.
When all you’ve got left is hope, then that’s what you cling to: hope that things will eventually get better, hope that you’ll eventually find a full-time job. There are at least 23.5 million of us hopeful (yet quiet) people out here.
Maybe we need to start making a little noise.