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June 01, 2005

Louis Uchitelle Looks at the Long-Term Unemployed

The reliable Louis Uchitelle looks at the distressingly-high level of long-term unemployment:

The New Profile of the Long-Term Unemployed - New York Times: After three years of unemployment, Allen Gruenhut finally landed a job as director of human resources for a company in the stone business on Long Island. His age, 53, worked against him in his long hunt for work, he contends, and so did the six-figure salary he earned at his last job, in banking. "They would not take me seriously at job interviews when I said I would be happy with a lower salary," Mr. Gruenhut said.

Jackie Ellenwood, 31, is still without a job. She worked for three travel agencies over 13 years, until her last job, in Allen Park, Mich., ended in a layoff nine months ago. The industry is shrinking in response to more Internet bookings and cutbacks in corporate travel so Ms. Ellenwood is looking for work elsewhere and studying to become a nurse, confident that health care will continue to expand in an aging America. "I'm going to stick to my nursing courses," Ms. Ellenwood said, "even if I get a job."

The experiences of Mr. Gruenhut and Ms. Ellenwood help to explain why many of the nation's unemployed are still struggling to get back to work. Not since World War II has long-term joblessness - the percentage of the unemployed out of work for six months or more - been so high for so long after a recession has ended.... Several factors seem to be contributing to the rise in long-term unemployment. The swelling cost of company-paid health insurance is "inducing business to be less aggressive in its hiring," said Mark Zand.... The baby boomer bulge working its way through the labor force also plays a role; as this large group of workers ages it becomes harder for some who lose their jobs to find new work suited to their skills....

"It looks like employers are very hesitant about the future of the economy," said Lawrence F. Katz, a labor economist at Harvard. "It may be that we will fall into another weak economic period before we get a good recovery and really robust hiring." After World War II, when traditional industries dominated the economy, the usual pattern was for long-term unemployment to surge during recessions and die away quickly as recoveries took hold. That changed during the early 1990's and is even more evident in the current recovery, which began in November 2001. Rather than subside as growth resumed, long-term unemployment as a share of total joblessness continued to rise, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It peaked 17 months ago at 23.3 percent and has only gradually tapered off since then, to 21.2 percent in April....

Toyota Motors of North America, whose sales are rising more rapidly than other automakers in the United States, is holding back on hiring although its plants are operating flat-out. Its payroll, said Dennis Cuneo, a senior vice president, has grown by only 600 jobs this year - all of them at newly opened plants - to a total of just over 32,000 employees. Existing factories continue on two shifts a day. Overtime and reconfigured work schedules help to squeeze out more production, without adding third shifts and the hiring that the additional shifts would require. "We are reluctant to bring people on immediately," Mr. Cuneo said. "We are going to wait and see what we can still get from improvements in productivity. If the demand is sustained, there will come a point where you have to add a shift."...

Sixty-six percent of the working age population was in the labor force in April, down from 66.7 percent at the start of the recovery. That is 1.6 million missing people, enough to raise the unemployment rate to 6.2 percent from its present 5.2 percent - if they all showed up....

Posted by DeLong at June 1, 2005 12:23 PM