To be young, gifted, black and unemployed

Are the long-term unemployed locked out of the workforce? It seems that way.

As the debt ceiling and budget battle between Republicans in Congress and President Obama recedes, Democrats are attempting a tactical pivot to the jobs issue.

Many of us believe jobs should have been the principal legislative priority in the previous Congress, when Democrats held majority control of both houses, but instead focused on major initiatives like health care reform and bailing out American automakers.

The economy and jobs were the two most significant issues leading into last year’s midterm elections. As a result, Republicans gained control of the House, along with a record 680 state legislative seats — assuming control of 26 state legislatures. However, eight months after those legislators have taken their seats, the economy and job creation remains stagnant.

This does not bode well for the prospects of much of the jobless; people like me who have been out of the workforce for more than two years.

After watching Congress skirmish over every other policy point for the last two years, the fact that they are only now beginning to pivot to addressing jobs does not give me confidence that they will construct a solution, especially for the long-term unemployed.

We know the statistics by now: 14 million Americans are currently out of work; 6 million of those have been out of work for longer than six months, and 4.4 million for longer than a year.

Black unemployment is nearly twice the national average at 15.9 percent, and for black men, 17.0 percent (from July 2011). If you are long-term jobless, your chances at finding work diminish as time goes on. Given these statistics, this renders people like me almost doomed to failure.

I have read about the employment problem constantly in the last eight months. Each time, the news gets more discouraging. If the long-term unemployed do face a stigma by the corporate workforce, what can we do to change that perception?

I have been on the market since 2007, but I have not worked since September 2008. I am currently studying for an Associates Degree in business, having made the Dean’s List last semester, and with computer technical education completed in 1998. My skills have not diminished by any negligible margin.

Yet most companies will not consider anyone who has been out as long as I have.
Even with a higher education degree, the long-term unemployment gap would be enough to disqualify me from those jobs that require it. Meanwhile, it seems useless applying to retailers and fast-food restaurants, when they are receiving millions of applications from people of all educational levels and ages. When the bar is set so high, what more can we do?

Even as — or if — Washington finally turns its focus to jobs, it isn’t likely that whatever comes of it — assuming anything does — will do much for the people who have been out of work for longer than six months, let alone two years.

The best job creation plan that might come from Congress will not alter the perceptions by the human resources officer about someone who has been out of work long-term. Nor will a government plan alter the policies of businesses that ignore jobless applicants in favor of those who are already employed.

Unquestionably, there are plenty of arguments to have about what the solution to this problem could be.

But when I look at it from my perspective, I don’t see how more quarreling about the problem will help to put an end to it.

The fact is, this latest tussle over the debt ceiling provides no assurance that a way out is forthcoming from Washington. Nor do corporations, which are hoarding profits while operating with obsolete human resources assumptions, lead me to believe that they will invest in the American workforce.

If I had to summarize the message from Washington, Wall Street, and Main Street to the long-term unemployed, it would be, “Sorry, you’re on your own. Good luck. And get a job.”

For me, and many other long-term unemployed Americans, these facts are demoralizing.

There does not appear to be a clear road out of this morass. Even if there were, it may come too late for millions of people who are overwhelmed by financial troubles due to the loss of income.

And so, people like me are effectively locked out. If I sound cynical about Washington’s renewed “focus on jobs,” you’ll have to forgive me. After three years of futile job hunting, no income, compiled debts, and dejection, optimism is hard to come by.