How to Help the Long-Term Unemployed


Are we punishing them with misplaced compassion, or failing them with inaction?

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The number of people out of work for more than six months is 5.5 million, and the vast majority of this group has been unemployed for more than a year. For this week's "Working it Out" question, we asked if the government should enact special programs to help the long-term unemployed. Here are five of the best responses ... and keep responding!

A free market approach to getting the long-term unemployed back to work

Here are several changes that would get the long term unemployed back into the workforce:

-- Cut unemployment back to 20 weeks. The fact that people can stay out of work for nearly 2 years with government support is an extraordinarily perverse incentive. This misguided compassion leads to loss of skills and work contacts.

-- Tighten disability eligibility requirements. Social Security disability payments have surged during the recession. Now 1 in 5 Social Security payouts are for disabilities. The incentive to stop working when still at least marginally able causes people to drop out and never come back.

-- Reduce or eliminate the minimum wage. People can't get back to the workforce because they can't bring enough value to cover their cost. They need to be able to get back into the workforce at a reduced rate until the skills come back.

There are others that would help, but these are a good start. Years of well intentioned compassion has devastated millions of lives. It's time to stop.

Why the free-market approach is dead wrong

I am 54 and unemployed for the first time in my life. I even went back to school and earned my BS degree. Your ideas [responding to the note above] are so wrong it is sickening to think that anyone thinks like this. I hope you never have to deal with problems, and God save the people who believe in what you are preaching.

It's age discrimination ...

If you're a male over about 50 and lose something like a middle management job, you can be dead in the water. In many cases, nobody will hire you. As the age increases, job opportunities decrease. My experience with people I know seems to show that men of this age are more likely to lose their job than women. I'm guessing that is related to employer fear of discrimination suits.

This is not necessarily tied to this recession. I've seen it happen to guys I know for years. Some of these guys could get a job in an appliance store or selling cars or real estate in the past, but the recession put the brakes on that.

I don't have any answer to the problem, but it is a big problem.

... and it cuts across gender lines

From what I've observed, it's not limited to men over 50. Age discrimination cuts across gender lines. If [men are fired more frequently] think it has less to do with fear of discrimination suits and more to do with the fact that men - particularly in that demographic - generally make more than women and are therefore more expensive to keep on the payroll.

What's wrong with government hiring more workers?

During WWII, the government had the WPA. No I am not old enough to remember, but I heard about it from my mother-in law who was involved, to put people on public aid to work.  A person who has somewhere to be and something to do will be less likely to get involved in criminal activities. I also believe they will have more self-respect.
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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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