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The long-term unemployed: The economy’s invisible people

Lee A. Daniels | 5/6/2013, 10:33 a.m.

It’s widely accepted that, generally speaking, the longer individuals are jobless, the more their connections to viable job networks will fade and advances in technology will outpace their skills. That belief is a major reason employers, as numerous studies show, are loath to hire unemployed workers who’ve been jobless for even just six months. That reasoning means that in today’s economy a great majority of the long-term unemployed have almost no chance of finding another job.

The Joint Committee’s own report suggests recommendations that are similar to those of many economists and other observers. Governments at the local and state as well as the federal level must forge policies that promote economic growth and encourage private employers to hire more people. Governments also must undertake new projects, such as rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, that would enable them to hire more of the unemployed. The public and private sectors must “modernize” the community college system so that those institutions can help retrain older workers and prepare new ones to meet today’s employment requirements.

It will come as no surprise that Black American (and Hispanic American) workers are disproportionately likely to be among the long-term unemployed and the very long-term unemployed. That grim reality underscores the raft of statistics that show that, in fact, Black Americans have been beset by a crisis of high mass-unemployment and long-term unemployment for more than four decades. That crisis sharply divided African-American society into an “opportunity sector” and a “crisis-ridden sector.”

For years those scholars and activists who argued that this was not a matter of Black inferiority but of economic shifts in the labor market and persisting racial discrimination, were largely ignored. I wonder: Now that the crisis of mass long-term unemployment has crossed the color line, will the larger American society take the same stance?

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.