Declining unemployment rates in Toledo, Lucas County, and the rest of Ohio offer heartening evidence that the Great Recession continues to recede in our hard-hit state. But they also emphasize the growing disparity between unemployed workers who are fortunate enough to find new jobs fairly quickly and the 3.8 million Americans who have been out of work for six months or more.
These long-term unemployed workers need urgent help that Congress refuses to provide. The longer that default persists, the more shameful it becomes.
Toledo’s jobless rate last month was an estimated 7 percent, down from 9.4 percent in the year-ago month. In Lucas County, the unemployment rate fell to 6.6 percent from 8.8 percent in March, 2013. Ohio’s jobless rate, at 6.1 percent, is the lowest in nearly six years and again below the national rate.
This is good news, even if the slow growth of job creation across the state suggests that many frustrated workers are dropping out of the labor market and are no longer reflected in the jobless numbers. Ohio still is shedding jobs in the public sector, manufacturing, and transportation and utilities. But the lower jobless rates will be extolled in politicians’ re-election campaigns and the state’s economic development programs.
Yet matters are far more dire for the long-term unemployed, in Ohio and across the nation. A new study by the nonpartisan Brookings Institution suggests that barely one out of three people who are jobless for six months or more get new jobs within 15 months. Only one of nine finds a steady, full-time job.
And of the employees who do get jobs, more than one-third are out of work — or the labor market — again within a year. The research offers the frightening implication that long-term joblessness may become a permanent condition.
The longer people are out of work, some economists assert, the more their skills and productivity atrophy. Other studies suggest that employers almost automatically reject job candidates who have been out of work for a long time, even if they have substantial relevant experience. Long-term unemployed workers who are counseled to take any available job often find that their new positions pay badly, are poor fits, or quickly disappear.
An economist quoted by the Washington Post called long-term unemployment “another form of inequality.” Late last year, Congress cut off emergency federal benefits for nearly 2 million long-term unemployed Americans, including 52,000 Ohioans, who had exhausted their state-paid benefits.
For many of the affected workers and their families, the extended benefits — which averaged $318 a week in Ohio — kept them from destitution while they hunted for work. Last month, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill, supported by the Obama Administration, that would restore the benefits temporarily and give long-term unemployed workers more help with job searches and training.
But the Republican-controlled House has shown little interest in the Senate bill, arguing that the economic recovery will solve the problem by itself. The latest research makes clear that isn’t true.
When lawmakers return from their long Easter recess, they need to pay more attention to their constituents whose lack of work isn’t a matter of choice. That starts with renewing federal jobless benefits.