While Natale waited to receive her license to work as a nurse in a new state, she applied for countless other jobs, like data entry, to no avail. Now, she and husband survive month-to-month on his $1,700 disability check. They live in a rented house that Natale fears they'll lose, since her unemployment benefits ran out and they've now run through $22,000 from her 401(K). "It's been tough," she says by phone one recent afternoon. "We're just not eating a lot and not using any gas. We're down to bare necessities."
Fifty-two-year-old Jeffrey Boike went through a similar experience after losing two successive jobs within the last few years. Boike manages housekeeping crews for hospitals: a pretty good job, he says, for someone with just one year of college. First, he lost a long-standing gig in Indiana; then later, lost a similar job in Nebraska, where he moved specifically for work. He's now living in his home state of Michigan, where he stays in a relative's basement to save money. He took a $10,000 pay cut for his new job and drives 60 miles each way to work: a trip that costs him $600 a month in gas. "It's been a rough couple of years, and I'll be paying for it for years to come, because I took such a hit on my credit," he adds.
Part of what made this recession different than others is simply the length of time it has taken for the economy to bounce back. The ranks of the long-term unemployed have thinned since the peak of 2010, but 2.7 million long-term unemployed people is still not a statistic that makes economists and politicians excited.
The Great Recession also affected workers indiscriminately. "Before, it was highly unlikely that someone who was highly skilled and employable would be out of work for so long," says Jesse Rothstein, an associate professor of public policy and economics at University of California, Berkeley. "In this recession, if you lost your job in January 2009, it did not matter how skilled or motivated you were. You would not have another job before you were long-term unemployed."
That made the share of the long-term unemployed much greater than in prior recessions. Research from three Princeton University economists, Alan Krueger, Judd Cramer, and David Cho, shows that the number of long-term unemployed hovered around 10 percent to 20 percent of the unemployed population for roughly 60 years; however, during the Great Recession, the share of long-term unemployed hit as high as 45 percent of the total unemployed population."The long-term unemployed, therefore, exert a more significant effect on unemployment dynamics today than they have in the past," the paper says.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently did an analysis of long-term unemployment from 2007 to 2009. Their findings lay bare the demographics of this group in a new, stark manner. Among the surprising data points: A college degree was not enough to stave off long-term unemployment. People with a high school diploma were just as likely to be out of work for 27 weeks or more as a person with a bachelor's degree during the height of the recession.