The State Of The Long-Term Unemployed

Dec 11, 2011
Originally published on December 12, 2011 10:02 am

Millions of Americans wake up each morning without a job, even though they desperately want to work. It's one of the depressing legacies of the financial crisis and Great Recession.

NPR and the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a poll of people who had been unemployed or with an insufficient level of work for more than a year. The results document the financial, emotional and physical effects of long-term unemployment and underemployment.

The federal government currently counts 5.7 million Americans as long-term unemployed, which it defines as people out of work for 27 weeks or more. The NPR/Kaiser poll used a slightly different measure, surveying people out of work for a year or more.

Only 13 percent of them said they are currently collecting unemployment benefits. The poll also interviewed people working part-time who want full-time work.

Financial Hardships

Of these long-term unemployed and underemployed, 51 percent said they've borrowed money from friends or family to get by. Close to half say they've had trouble paying for housing and food, and one-third say they've changed their living situation to save money, including moving in with relatives and friends. Additionally, 9 percent say they've lost their home to foreclosure.

Virtually all of that is true for Lin Daniel, whose most recent work was building websites for small businesses. Right now she's living with a friend in Albany, N.Y.

"I'm not homeless and probably never will be, but everything that I had and everything I worked for is gone," Daniel says. "I played the game the way I was — quote — supposed to, you know: house, marriage ... and, nothing. It's all gone."

Emotional And Physical Health

One goal of the poll was to focus on personal and emotional health effects. About one-third said their mental and physical health is worse.

David Supon of Buffalo, N.Y., says being out of work is stressful. His last job was managing the construction of a clean coal plant in Ohio, and it paid well into the six figures.

"I could say I'm depressed because I think I am, a little bit," Supon says. "You think you're valuable in your mind, and you want to offer your talents to somebody, and you get rejected, and ... it's rough."

About half of the long-term unemployed and underemployed said they currently have no health insurance, and 56 percent said they've put off getting health care that they needed.

Not surprisingly, nearly a quarter said that lack of work has been hard on their marriages. But interestingly, almost as many said it had a positive effect on their relationships with their children.

Hopes Of Finding Another Job

As for their employment prospects, most are not optimistic, including Lin Daniel.

"If I put my hopes in finding another job, I'd just break my heart. To be honest, I've given up," she says.

A majority of those polled say they don't have much confidence they'll get a job with sufficient pay and benefits. Nearly 70 percent would like the government to offer more job training opportunities and placement services, but only about 1 in 10 believe that government efforts to deal with the poor economy have helped them.

Jerry Sweden, an unemployed construction project manager, expresses that cynicism, starting with President Obama's stimulus program.

"A lot of it was supposed to be construction, but I really haven't been able to catch on to any of it," Sweden says.

Blame On Washington, Wall Street

After losing his job in Florida, Sweden moved in with his mother in Romulus, Mich. He's also disgusted with congressional bickering that's held up aid for the unemployed.

"They sit there, and they stretch [extending unemployment benefits] out, and two weeks after they were supposed to vote on it, then they vote on it," he says. "But in the meantime, they put all these people through emotional hell."

As for dishing out blame, about 70 percent said Wall Street institutions and Republicans in Congress bear a lot or some of the blame for the situation the country is in today. Six in 10 blame Democrats in Congress, while just under half blame President Obama.

But those numbers reflect the fact that the long-term unemployed and underemployed identify themselves as Democrat or Democrat-leaning by 2 to 1, leaving their potential impact on the election next November unclear.

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep, good morning.

Millions of Americans have personal experience with the story we'll hear next. It's the story of what it's like to spend a year or more out of work in this economy. Data from an NPR/Kaiser Family Foundation poll reveals some of the ways that the long-term unemployed have been getting by. And this survey begins an NPR series called Still No Job. Even those who woke up telling themselves that today, will know from these findings that at least they're not alone.

NPR's John Ydstie has our first installment.

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: Here are some of the poll's findings. Close to half of those surveyed say they've had trouble paying for housing and food. Over half told us they've borrowed money from friends or family to get by. A third say they've changed their living situation to save money, including moving in with relatives and friends. And one in 10 say they've lost their home due to foreclosure.

Virtually all of that is true for Lin Daniel, whose most recent work was building websites for small businesses. Right now, she's living with a friend in Albany, New York.

LIN DANIEL: I'm not homeless and I probably never will be, but everything that I had and everything I worked for is gone. I played the game the way I was, quote, "supposed to," you know, house, marriage. I had the cat instead of the dog. But, you know, and nothing. It's all gone.

YDSTIE: The federal government currently counts 5.7 million Americans as long-term unemployed, which it defines as people out of work for 27 weeks or more. The NPR/Kaiser poll used a slightly different measure. It surveyed people out of work for a year or more. And only 13 percent said they're currently collecting unemployment benefits. The poll also interviewed people working part-time who want full-time work.

One goal of the poll was to focus on personal and emotional health effects. About one in three said both their mental health and physical health is worse.

David Supon of Buffalo, New York, says being out of work is stressful.

DAVID SUPON: I could say I'm depressed, because I think I am, a little bit.

YDSTIE: Supon's last job was managing the construction of a clean coal plant in Ohio. It paid well into the six figures.

SUPON: You know, you think you're valuable, in your mind. And you want to offer your talents to somebody and you get rejected. And, you know, it's rough.

YDSTIE: About half those surveyed said they currently have no health insurance and close to 60 percent said they've put off getting health care that they needed.

Not surprisingly, nearly a quarter said that lack of work has been hard on their marriages. But interestingly, almost as many said it has had a positive effect on their relationship with their children.

As for their employment prospects, most are not optimistic, including Lin Daniel.

DANIEL: If I put my hopes in finding another job, I'd just break my heart. To be honest, I've given up.

YDSTIE: A strong majority of those polled say they don't have much confidence they'll get a full-time work. Seventy percent would like the government to offer more job training opportunities and placement services. But only about one in 10 believe that government efforts to deal with the poor economy has helped them.

Jerry Sweden, an unemployed construction project manager, expresses that cynicism, starting with President Obama's stimulus program.

JERRY SWEDEN: A lot of it was supposed to be construction, but I really haven't been able to catch on to any of it.

YDSTIE: After losing his job in Florida, Sweden moved in with his mother in Romulus, Michigan. He's also disgusted with congressional bickering that's held up aid for the unemployed.

SWEDEN: Extending the unemployment, you know, and they sit there and they stretch it out. And then, two weeks after they were supposed to vote on it, then they vote on it. But, in the meantime, you know, they put all these people through emotional hell.

YDSTIE: As for dishing out blame, 70 percent in the survey said Wall Street institutions and Republicans in Congress bear a lot or some of the blame for the situation the country is in today. A little more than half blame Democrats in Congress, while fewer than half blame President Obama. But those numbers reflect the fact that the long-term unemployed and under-employed identify themselves as Democrat or Democrat leaning by two-to-one. That leaves their potential impact on the election next November unclear.

John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.