A line divides job-seekers.
On one side are those cast recently into unemployment; on the other, those out of work six months or longer. For the latter, the situation is bleak.
In his ongoing study on long-term unemployment, economist Rand Ghayad has found that job openings generally go to the newly jobless. Thousands of employers were sent résumés that outlined very similar education and experience, except for one detail: Half the faux job-seekers had been out of work more than six months, said Ghayad, a Northeastern University professor.
The results were stark: Unqualified candidates recently laid off had a better chance of being called back by potential employers than well-qualified applicants who had been out of work longer.
For those out of work, it becomes a vicious circle, said labor economist Thomas Smith of Emory University. People “start to become unemployable.”
Paul Tate, for instance, has been looking since he lost his job as safety director for a 4,000-employee Atlantic City, N.J., resort in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy in October 2012. He and his wife moved back to Georgia in January to live with family.
The Dalton man has sent out 493 applications and résumés in a year of searching. Sometimes, he said, a potential employer notes the long gap since his layoff. “In interviews, sometimes they ask what I’ve been doing since. I tell them I’ve been trying to find work.”
Across the nation, more than 4 million people have been out of work more than six months.
Long-term unemployment was a problem after the 2001 recession, but was mild compared with today. Four years after the latest recession officially ended, the economy still has fewer jobs than in 2007. And nothing similar happened after previous downturns, Smith said.
“Look at the early 1980s. That was a very deep recession, but when it was over, people were re-employed pretty quickly.”
Now, company representatives look at the time since a job-seeker’s last job and wonder, ‘Why hasn’t someone else hired this person?’ For jobs that require specialized skills, an employer thinks, ‘Maybe this person doesn’t have the chops anymore,’ ’’ Smith said. “They are using that metric to identify levels of quality in a worker’s performance.”
While it is impossible to know for sure, the study offers evidence that companies are screening out long-term jobless before even looking at qualifications, said economist Jeff Wenger of the University of Georgia. “They are picky, and they can afford to be picky.”