Diminishing Prospects For The Long-Term Unemployed
The latest figures show December was another month of steady, moderate job growth. But for many people still struggling with long-term unemployment, the situation hasn't actually changed much at all.
For Alecia Warthen, the last eight months have been painfully stagnant.
She was the first person in her family to finish college, after growing up in one of the roughest sections of Brooklyn. She had earned an accounting degree and worked as a bookkeeper for most of the last decade.
Then she lost her job with the City of New York last April, and she's now telling local grocery stores she'll do anything for a job — mop floors, stock shelves, bag groceries.
One morning she stopped by a Foodtown grocery store in the Bronx. She put in an application a few weeks before, but hadn't heard back. The man she spoke with immediately shook his head at her inquiry.
"They just closed one of my other Foodtown stores, and we're absorbing their help right now. So I have nothing open," he said.
"This is sad. This is so sad." Warthen said as she made her way back through the doors. "I'm going back home. Enough."
Warthen says she's applied for more than 100 jobs since her layoff and has had only four interviews so far. She's tried making clothes and curtains to sell — until her sewing machine broke. She even peddled homemade body lotions and home-cooked meals. But nothing's helped...
...But...the main reason people are staying unemployed is a skill-set gap. Those growing sectors need skills many long-term unemployed people just don't have, especially those in their 40s and 50s.
Bonny Williams helps run New York Staffing Services, a job-placement center in Manhattan. He's found that the longer someone remains unemployed, the more that person will be perceived as someone without the right skills.
"It does look undesirable ... from an employer perspective," Williams says. "They'd rather spend the time with someone who's just coming off an assignment because they're looking as though they're job-ready, versus someone who may have been a bit stale being out of work for some time."
Williams says even though he is placing more workers these days, the people first in line to get the new jobs are the ones who've been out of work the shortest time.
That means prospects continue to look dim for people like Warthen. She has already started to pull money out of both her life insurance policy and retirement account. To save on electricity now, her house goes pitch black every night before 11 p.m.