The Realities of Chronic Unemployment

Posted on August 15, 2017

Have you ever been out of job? It can be a frightening, difficult, disheartening season to be in. And, the longer a season of unemployment, the more difficult it can become.

Perhaps one of the most terrifying aspects of long-term unemployment — that is, a period of unemployment for more than 26 weeks — is the near-inescapability of it. It can be devastating: You may have to choose between paying the mortgage, staying on top of bills, and buying groceries. Unemployment benefits aren’t enough to make ends meet. Add to the financial strain depression, chronic and debilitating stress, and even questioning your self-worth.

Perhaps not surprisingly, chronic unemployment is one of the five key drivers of poverty. A myriad of overwhelming consequences accompanies long-term unemployment, and while each is extremely distressing, researchers Rand Ghayad and William Dickens at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston paint an even grimmer portrait of long-term unemployment. Finding a job becomes only more difficult the longer one looks. In other words, the horrific effects of long-term unemployment are increasingly difficult to remedy as time passes.

Losing a job can have a snowball effect. The cycle of unemployment – and poverty – just keeps getting worse.

Ghayad and Dickens found that the longer one is unemployed, the longer one will be unemployed. For example, someone facing unemployment for longer than six months has only a three percent chance of being called back after submitting an application in a similar profession to their previous one, compared to 17 percent for those who are short-term unemployed. This is where unemployment becomes chronic — persistent over the long-term — and re-entering the workforce can prove to be nearly impossible.

This terrifying phenomenon can affect anyone, regardless of industry, education level, age group, blue or white collar professions, race, or gender. Since employers generally prefer to hire only the currently employed, everyone suffering from long-term unemployment — whether they have a college degree or a high school degree, low skills or advanced skills, significant experience or comparably little — can find themselves effectively barred from the labor force, driving further the cycle of poverty.

What is Unemployment?

What do we mean when we talk about unemployment? We might typically think of anyone without a job, but unemployment figures refer to people who are actively looking for work and cannot find it. They don’t include those who are without a job and have stopped looking. Indeed, Matthew O’Brien noted in the Atlantic in late 2013 that millions of Americans cannot even get employers to so much as look at their resumes. The trend is so discouraging that, usually, the unemployed worker exits the job market around 21 weeks of searching.We call these workers “discouraged,” and they are not counted in unemployment statistics.

For the chronically unemployed worker, being effectively barred from the job market can result in additional barriers to entry. Over several months, individuals can experience “skill decay,” whereby their skills decrease in applicability the longer they remain absent from the labor market. Generally, prospective employers will prefer workers who have remained up-to-date on the latest or best work practices – i.e. those that are currently employed.

For families, chronic unemployment can often prove devastating, as well. Studies show that children with at least one unemployed parent perform worse in school than children whose parents benefit from stable employment. They are also 15 percent more likely to repeat a grade.

One’s physical and mental health may also suffer. Rates of depression, anxiety, and even suicide increase as a result of extended absence from the labor market. Drug use also becomes more likely, and life expectancy often declines. And, of course, long-term unemployment puts individuals at significant risk for falling beneath the poverty line.

Chronic unemployment is more than just missing out on a career. It prevents individuals from utilizing their skills and talents, and pursing their potential.

Breaking the Cycle of Unemployment

At Stand Together Foundation, we believe that work is the most direct way to rise out of poverty — but often, significant internal and external barriers keep motivated workers out of stable, rewarding, and fulfilling careers.

That’s why we partner with organizations — we call them Catalysts — who believe in, and foster, the innate potential of individuals to live a prosperous life. Many S+ Catalysts work to combat chronic unemployment through empowerment training, workforce development classes, and skills training that equip individuals with the tools to succeed in countless professions — and in life.

One of our Catalysts, The WorkFaith Connection (TWC), does exactly that. Based in Houston, Texas, TWC helps job-seekers access the skills, training, support, and community needed to secure a job, provide for their families, and give back to their communities. Founded in 2006, TWC offers an eight-day job search Boot Camp — with small classes that teach soft skills, values, and attitudes critical to workplace success — designed to transition unemployed individuals to the stability, community, and independence of employment. Supportive programming extends beyond the eight-day Boot Camp. Participants can enroll in the WorkFaith Academy, which provides further education, mentoring opportunities, and workshops on workplace conflict, time management, and perseverance. Students often network in their new community, share their stories, and step into leadership roles to give back. To date, approximately 4,000 people have completed the Boot Camp program, and 76 percent have achieved employment as a result.

The WorkFaith Connection isn’t the only S+ Catalyst serving those who are chronically unemployed. Catalysts like Chrysalis, Cara, Women’s Bean Project, and The Joseph Project are also working hard to fight back and help people unleash their potential.

At Stand Together Foundation, we are committed to helping individuals break the cycle of poverty by partnering with organizations that empower individuals with the tools, knowledge, and training to transform their lives. We know that chronic unemployment is one of the more direct pathways through which people become trapped in poverty. S+ Catalysts have some of the country’s most effective and transformative programs, assisting individuals in reentering the workforce, helping them pursue their potential, and breaking the cycle of poverty. Join us in our efforts to help people transform their lives. Let’s Stand Together.