Long-Term Unemployed Desperate for Help, New Survey Says

Last Updated Sep 2, 2011 9:15 AM EDT

It's almost Labor Day and many managers are no doubt getting ready to kick back and fire up the barbeque for the last long weekend of summer. But there's one boss whose biggest task won't be manning the grill this weekend -- with the new jobs report showing unemployment still at 9.1% and his jobs speech to Congress looming next Thursday President Obama is certainly not in for lazy days of relaxation.

Exactly how bad is the problem he needs to address? Employers stopped adding jobs in August, and it was the weakest jobs report since September 2010. Recession fears are looming.

And with government so polarized politicians are making fools of themselves squabbling over scheduling, are there any solutions with broad enough appeal to actually get passed? A new nationwide survey from The John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University offers some answers, but they're unlikely to improve your pre-holiday mood.

This fourth round of the poll on unemployment conducted by the center found "misery and bleak expectations," as well as startling statistics that will shock even the most recession-weary follower of the country's deteriorating economic condition:

  • Three-quarters of the currently unemployed have been out of work for more than six months.
  • Fully half have been out of work for more than two years.
  • Three-quarters of the long-term unemployed say the recession has had a major impact on their families
  • Three-quarters also report cutting back on food and health care to the extent that it has made a difference in their daily lives.
  • Among those fortunate enough to find work, over half settled for lower pay and nearly one-third saw their job-related benefits cut.
  • 71 percent say the U.S. economy is experiencing fundamental and lasting changes, compared to 52 percent who said the same in August 2009.
The situation is particularly bad for older workers, with the survey finding "just one-quarter of those over age 50 first surveyed in 2009 now have a full-time job." 70 percent of respondents said their retirement plans have changed. Adding to the sense of hopelessness among older workers are the numerous and heartbreaking comments about age discrimination offered by respondents when researchers asked the open-ended question "What is the one thing you think would help the most in getting you a new job?"

Of course, those just entering the workforce are also being affected, many seeing their career stunted from the outset, forcing them to scale back their ambitions. The New York Times recently profiled them as "Generation Limbo: highly educated 20-somethings, whose careers are stuck in neutral, coping with dead-end jobs and listless prospects."

But whatever the age of the respondents, a vast majority agreed that the government must take action to help the unemployed.

"The workers we surveyed, who represent the views of millions of unemployed Americans, are eager -- if not desperate -- for the government to create policies that will bring down high unemployment and grow the economy," said Carl Van Horn, Director of the Heldrich Center and a co-author of the study.

So what are the long-term unemployed hoping they'll hear from Obama next week? The data says an array of proposals would win approval, showing that large majorities support these plans:

  • Longer training programs to enable workers to change careers (78 percent in favor).
  • Business tax credits for hiring additional employees (70 percent).
  • Direct job creation programs for the unemployed (69 percent).
  • Further extension of Unemployment Insurance benefits (61 percent).
  • Requiring Unemployment Insurance recipients to enter training in order to receive Unemployment Insurance benefits (60 percent).
Comments in response to the "What is the one thing you think would help the most in getting you a new job?" question also reveal serious anxieties about immigrants and offshoring as fear and desperation grow. There is no consensus, however, with policy proposals ranging from right-tilting calls to cut spending and corporate tax rates to more economically liberal ideas like universal healthcare and higher taxes on the rich.

As always, the trouble lies in balancing conflicting priorities. While survey respondents were keen for the government to take action with new programs, fully two out of three also favor cutting government spending to reduce the deficit. President Obama is in for a long long weekend.

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(Image courtesy of Flickr pbump, CC 2.0)
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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.