February 2

Long-term unemployed face difficult challenges in Maine and the nation

As evidence shows the longer people are out of work, the less likely they’ll be hired, President Obama is urging companies to pledge not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed.

By Paul Koenig pkoenig@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Percent of unemployed who have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks in Maine

2003: 17.1%

2004: 18.8%

2005: 17.1%

2006: 15.6%

2007: 15.2%

2008: 13.2%

2009: 28.1%

2010: 36.8%

2011: 35.7%

2012: 37.0%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Rabinowitz said a goal of the programs is to reduce long-term unemployment — a number that spiked after the Great Recession and hasn’t dropped much since 2010.

The percent of the total unemployed who have been out of work for at least 27 weeks, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ definition of long-term unemployment, more than doubled between 2008 and 2009 in Maine, from 13.3 percent to 28.1 percent, according to the bureau. It rose again in 2010 to 36.8 percent and has remained around 37 percent since.

Data from the bureau’s Current Population Survey hasn’t been released for 2012, but the most recent preliminary data from the bureau showed the percentage for last December at 37.1 percent in the U.S., down slightly from December 2012.

Rabinowitz said she’s anecdotally heard of employers discriminating against the long-term unemployed, and lawmakers in Maine, as well as other states, have proposed bills to make it illegal. However, she said, it’s difficult to quantify and prove.

“What we’re here to do is make our clients, through the CareerCenter, as hireable as they can be so that becomes less relevant,” Rabinowitz said.

She said another challenge of getting the unemployed back into the workforce is that often people want to hold out for jobs that paid equal to what they were making before. It can be particularly challenging to find similar replacement jobs for older workers in more rural areas, Rabinowitz said, because many of the jobs have moved to more metropolitan areas. Older workers tend to have mortgages or own homes and are less mobile, she said.

Rabinowitz said it can be difficult to convince people “that continuing to hold out for an opportunity that doesn’t look like it’s going to come is not the right choice. They need to change strategies and start training for a new career.”

New careers likely will pay less than what workers were paid before, said Philip Trostel, a professor of economy at the University of Maine.

Sustained long-term unemployment is damaging to the economy because the economy is not reaching its productivity potential, and people returning to the workforce will likely have lower wages, Trostel said. He compared it to falling back ten years in terms of career trajectory and pay. People might not immediately want to take a job with a 20 percent pay cut, he said.

“They ultimately realize, ‘Oh, that’s the new reality for me,’” Trostel said. “It’s a harsh reality. I certainly wouldn’t blame someone for not wanting to face that.”

Paul Koenig — 207-621-5663 pkoenig@centralmaine.com Twitter: @paul_koenig
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