Off Unemployment Island, But the Waters Are Still Rough


Forgotten Americans: One year later

A look at the long-term jobless one year later, and there is some good news. 

Last summer, Dennis Ahearn had been out of work for more than four years. But today this former AT&T IT manager’s story has changed: He not only is employed full time but he is helping others find employment.

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“I work for Career Resources, and I’m a full-time instructor,” said Ahearn. “We do training. We do job search assistance. I do resume critiques for people, and it’s all pretty ironic…. The computer programs [I’m teaching] are pretty simple compared to the technology I had been previously working with but I really do like helping people and understand what they’re going through.”

Ahearn was one of last summer’s participants in Platform to Employment (P2E), a program that tries to help people out of work for more than a year get back in the labor force through retraining and a wage-subsidy component that pays a person’s salary for the first two months as an incentive to hire.

And the good news doesn’t include only Ahearn. Of the six P2E graduates FOX Business caught up with during the summer of 2013, none needed to use the subsidy program and all now have jobs.

“It feels amazing,” said Jami Klubek, who was offered part-time employment in May -- and then offered full-time employment at the same manufacturing company in Connecticut soon after.

"There is still a lot of sadness and hardship and it can make me cry. But I think I am beginning to see the threads of a response that is constructive, that is broad based… and I think when it begins to develop more and more energy, it’s going to be a clear message of hope.”

Joe Carbone, Platform to Employment

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“It’s a really huge ego boost,” she said. “It boosts your self-esteem because now someone else is noticing, ‘Wow, you can really do a lot for us and you’ve got good skills and we’re going to utilize them.’ And it feels good to get up in the morning and have somewhere to go and something to do all day long.”

Joe Carbone, the founder of Platform to Employment, echoes those positive sentiments. In July, Connecticut announced a statewide P2E program that will provide $3.6 million in funding and will be used to target 500 of Connecticut’s long-term unemployed.

“If I’m smiling more it’s because there is a lot more to smile about,” he said. “I mean, there is still a lot of sadness and hardship and it can make me cry. But I think I am beginning to see the threads of a response that is constructive, that is broad based… and I think when it begins to develop more and more energy, it’s going to be a clear message of hope.”

Hope, it seems, is certainly more prominent within this group than it was a year ago, though a full rebound for the nation's labor market remains elusive.

“The recent months have been very encouraging,” said Katharine Abramson, a former commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics who is now a professor at the University of Maryland. “But it is a long, slow path to recovery…. There is too much slack in the labor market and employers have become more confident and have really gotten spoiled over the last few years. At some point, they are going to need to adjust their expectations.”

Things are undoubtedly healing gradually -- and even in the numbers for the long-term jobless, the ones having the toughest time getting back into the labor market, there seems to be real signs of progress. The number of long-term unemployed, currently 3.2 million people, has declined by 1.1 million from a year ago, and the long-term unemployment rate, which in 2009 was at heights not seen since the Great Depression, is now steadily falling, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor statistics.

“We are seeing slow but measurable improvement,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute. “Things are getting better but things are also still very weak, and the long-term unemployed face the brunt of it.”

In January, there was a White House summit to bring attention to the barriers long-term unemployed people were facing, with 300 businesses pledging not to discriminate against this group. Carbone was at the summit and said while he does feel positive about the jobs numbers, he thinks they’re skewed, with many dropping out of the labor market entirely or settling for part-time work.

According to recent research by Princeton University economists Alan Krueger, Judd Cramer and David Cho, who tracked the movements of the long-term unemployed over a 16-month period, only about 11% found steady employment a year later.

Carbone says that is why more help from states and the federal government is needed. And the White House seems to be responding. There is currently a $150 million grant competition for a program called the Ready to Work fund, which will help provide long-term-unemployed individuals with a range of services and training. (Platform to Employment has applied to be included in the program.)

“The American workforce system needs to be there to provide the basic remedies, the services that one needs to overcome,” said Carbone. “If these folks don’t get a foot in the door or don’t have a system that prepares them …they’re being excluded, and in [excluding them], we’re not supporting our fellow Americans to benefit from the most fundamental tenets of being an American -- opportunity being one of them. This group is being frozen, and they’re making the sacrifice for all of us by thinning the labor force.”

Last year when FOX Business interviewed Bob Greeney, he had been working at Metro North for a year after being out of work for nearly three years. He said going through P2E and subsequently getting a job -- and health insurance -- has been crucial this year.

“Over the winter, I snap-fractured my foot and was out for three months,” explained Greeney. “Several times I thought to myself, ‘My God, I am so lucky that I had a job when this happened.’ What would I have done if I didn’t have a job? I guess I would show up in the emergency room, and that’s not a good thing. So having a job and the benefits -- I can’t describe how important that has been and how much that means to me and how much I’ve thought about that.”

Klubek is also grateful.

“It’s the tiny things that people take for granted, and you don’t realize you took them for granted until you hit rock bottom,” she said. “Now, every single day on a little piece of paper I write down one good thing that happened to me and put it in a jar and on New Year’s Eve, I will dump out the jar and have 365 things that were good that happened to me.”

She said one of the messages will undoubtedly be: “I got a job.”

“Yes,” she nodded and smiled. “May 12.”

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