COMMENTARY | I read with fascination a recent piece by Matthew O’Brien in the Atlantic regarding research done recently by economics Ph.D. candidate Rand Ghayad. According to Ghayad, the single most disqualifying factor for job-seekers is the length of time they’ve been unemployed. If that time is longer than six months, even if the individual has industry experience, the chances of getting a call back when submitting a resume are just 2.12 percent higher than those who don’t have industry experience.
As O’Brien explains, the difficulties for long-term unemployed in finding a job are even more severe than those who have shifted jobs several times. A person who has been unemployed for a long period of time has about as good a chance at getting a job as those who have little experience in the industry they’re applying for.
The research is fascinating: Ghayad send out thousands of fictitious resumes with similar experience but varying lengths of unemployment. What he discovered is that firms tend to ignore those resumes that were submitted by someone who had been out of work for more than six months.
According to O’Brien, it’s time for the government to step in. As much as I cringe at the notion of “the government stepping in” for most reasons, I think he may be right in this case. He is suggesting giving tax incentives to those companies who are willing to hire the long-term unemployed. I think that would be a great place to start. Another idea would be more focus on job retraining programs in which the unemployed could actually receive education in a different field than the one they’ve worked in before, in the hopes that — newly educated — they can have a better chance in the job market.
It’s a risky endeavor, asking the government to get involved in such an issue. Risky, too, in spending both the time and money of the government and an individual in retraining when, for all intents and purposes, the fact still remains that person has been out of work for a long time, and employers in whatever industry find the amount of time spent unemployed to be cause to ignore the resume. I can say from personal experience, having gone back to school to change careers while employed, it’s hard to find a job as a newly educated person with little experience in the chosen industry as well.
However, in an economy that is still sluggish and a job market where there are still far more applicants than openings, something indeed needs to be done to get as many of these long-term unemployed people back into the workforce as possible. What the perfect answer is, I don’t know and O’Brien doesn’t appear to know either. But something needs to happen soon.