Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Does unemployment make you unemployable?

Yesterday, labor officials and worker advocates from across the U.S. were in Washington, urging quick Congressional action to extend emergency jobless benefits and to renew health insurance subsidies for the long-term jobless.

Prolonged unemployment insurance, passed this year in the stimulus act, expires this month, and an estimated one million workers will see benefits end in January if Congress does not act.

The health subsidies, under which the federal government pays 65 percent of insurance costs under Cobra for up to nine months, have expired and are not available to the newly unemployed.

The continued sputtering of the U.S. economy has made unemployment extensions necessary, as more than 15 millions Americans remain on the roles of unemployment insurance, 36 percent of them now out of work for more than 6 months.

Benefit extensions have been necessary in most cases, given the state of the U.S. job market. However, joblessness and its effects on idled workers, as well as the challenges it presents employers looking to rehire workers who have been out of work for an extended period hasn't been considered as closely as perhaps it should be, in my opinion.Can workers, even those who entered their phase of unemployment with strong work histories, forget how to work, or lose their employment edge? While there may be no choice at this point but to extend benefits for another period of time, is our current system an effective one, given that so many Americans have been out of work for so long? What can be done to ensure that laid off workers are prepared to go back to work?

The last time the U.S. faced extended unemployment, in the 1970s, the shift in the employment paradigm wasn’t as dramatic. For many workers laid off for the first time, the entire process of looking for a job has dramatically changed. Many are lacking technology skills necessary to access online job banks.

Interestingly, during a forum I conducted with employers looking at ways to reintroduce workers back into the workforce, one employer indicated that if given the choice between hiring a worker that has been collecting unemployment insurance, and another equally qualified person that has been working, even in a position that he/she was overqualified for, she would choose the worker who has a recent history of work. This was an interesting perspective. Her point was that the individual on long-term unemployment had developed habits that she felt affecting them negatively and decreased their value to this employer. She appreciated the efforts and savvy of anyone that has found a way to stay employed in this tough economy. Furthermore, she said it indicated a will to work that she felt was lacking in anyone that has been on extended unemployment.

This is a perspective worth considering. How do other employers and/or recruiters view job seekers that lack a recent work history, particularly due to extended unemployment?

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