As secretary of labor, nothing keeps me up at night more than the plight of the long-term unemployed. As our economy continues to recover from the Great Recession, some of our neighbors feel as though they’ve been left behind. We have approximately 3.5 million people experiencing long-term unemployment − that is, out of work for 27 consecutive weeks or more − and each has a story to tell.
When I met recently with a group of experienced professionals who are unemployed through no fault of their own, one woman told me: “Every day feels like a battle to not be invisible.” Her words serve as a call to action for me and the whole department. We must do all we can to help them and so many others who are doing all of the right things, but still haven’t found a job that can support them and their families. This is also why it’s so important that Congress renews Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits − a critical lifeline that helps pay the bills and put food on the table while people look for work.
I want you to meet some of these incredible people. Their stories are heartbreaking, but their resilience is inspiring:
“I have done everything that this country tells you you should do … I’m not getting any nibbles.”
Marty, a father of two, is a veteran with a bachelor’s degree and IT certifications. He lost his job after he was diagnosed with cancer, and is now in recovery but has exhausted the Unemployment Insurance benefits that were helping him support his family while he continued to recover and look for work. He owns a home that he has rented out to try to make ends meet; however, he can’t afford to make necessary improvements and repairs, so he is not able to rent it out for an amount that would cover the mortgage payments.
“Employers start to wonder if it’s you.”
Mary, a recruiter, has two masters’ degrees, including an MBA, and was laid off during the banking crisis. With a daughter in the hospital, she survived on unemployment benefits for two years, as well as renting out rooms. Mary now has a full-time job offer and will begin in June at an international development organization.
“I’m angry. And I’m sad.”
Amelia, an exhibit and visual communications specialist with 33 years of work experience has been unemployed for three years. She is surviving on the proceeds from the sale of her home, but that money will run out by the end of this year. A friend has taken her in, but she is technically homeless. She also is an active volunteer, helping seniors and volunteering with her Community Emergency Response Team.
“We get so trapped in making ends meet for ourselves, we don’t realize there are others who need our help.”
Wilbert, a business and account manager in consumer services, is in the midst of second period of unemployment since 2010. He had been saving up to buy his first home but has had to use that savings to get by. He also receives unemployment benefits, which are about to expire. He is generous with his time as a volunteer, and he knows volunteering is an important way to keep his skills up-to-date.
I appreciated the honesty and courage these people demonstrated in talking about their experiences looking for work while struggling to make ends meet. They’re not giving up, and we’re not going to give up on them. The whole country is stronger when we field a full team, so we need everyone in the game.
In fact, our new Ready to Work Partnership grants are designed to serve long-term unemployed workers like Marty, Mary, Amelia and Wilbert — helping them upgrade their skills and transition into new industries, in addition to providing necessary work experience and financial support. The grant competition is open until June 19.
Learn more about how the Labor Department is helping the long-term unemployed, and connect with employment and training resources at www.dol.gov/FindYourPath.
Follow Secretary Perez on Twitter as @LaborSec and join the conversation about this issue using #FindYourPath.