Ofer Sharone, a university sociologist, calls the plight of 3.1 million long-term unemployed Americans who have been shut out from the gains of an improving economy a "forgotten story."
Despite data showing that hiring has picked up and layoffs have slowed, people who have been out of work for more than six months continue to face bleak job prospects. Almost half of jobless workers ages 55 and older are long-term unemployed.
No government policy or program has made a serious dent in these figures. Long-term unemployment has remained elevated in every occupation, industry and age group since the recession ended five years ago.
"When you look at the percentage of the long-term unemployed, we're still at levels not seen since the Great Depression," said Sharone, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, in a telephone interview. He recently cofounded the nonprofit Institute for Career Transitions in Boston, which pairs job counselors with long-term unemployed professionals ages 40 to 65, free of charge.
"As we see more job openings increase, it doesn't correspond to a decrease in long-term unemployment, as you might expect," he said. "The stigma against them creates a trap that requires other kinds of policies and more targeted programs."
These issues were the subject of a recent panel discussion on Capitol Hill, where labor force experts brought renewed attention and ideas on how to address prolonged joblessness, a remaining legacy of the recession.