But for a year the city’s unemployment rate has been at around 9 percent, above the national average of 8 percent, and the New York measure bumped up to 10 percent in June. Sometimes the unemployment rate can climb even in a good job market, because people who’ve left the labor force re-enter it and temporarily swell the ranks of the unemployed as they look for a position, and that’s part of the story in New York. Yet it’s also true that, despite the impressive job creation numbers, there’s been no increase over the past year in the number of people who are employed in the city.
But that’s not the most perplexing or disturbing feature of
the city’s job market these days. As a new report by the Community Service Society (our parent organization) notes, “New York City is currently in the longest stretch of annual unemployment rates at or above 9 percent since 1976.” What’s more, a stunning number of the unemployed are not simply between jobs. Among the city’s unemployed, “half of these individuals were among the long-term unemployed, defined as being out of work for more than six months. By comparison, 30 percent of unemployed New Yorkers were out of work long-term in 2006, before the recession.”
“Indeed, long-term unemployment has become an entrenched and pervasive feature of the current labor market landscape,” the report continues.
The difference between short-term unemployment and long-term unemployment is more than a matter of time. Long-term unemployed people stand to risk exhausting their unemployment benefits and other assets or help they’ve been living on. Skills atrophy, work contacts get stale and it becomes increasingly difficult to stay motivated.
What’s causing the length of New York City’s unemployment spells? CSS finds clues by looking at who is most affected. “Among racial and ethnic groups, black New Yorkers had the longest average duration of unemployment—47 weeks—and the highest percentage of those who had been out of work more than six months—57.5 percent,” likely a hangover from the recession itself, when black workers suffered disproportionately.
But CSS also finds that women, who were spared the worse effects of the recession, have fared poorly in the recovery. One reason? Government layoffs. “The massive loss of public sector jobs in the city, where women were 61 percent of employees from 2009 to 2011, likely played a role in this rise.” Meanwhile, the jobs being created in the city during the recovery tended to be either high-skill or low-skill, not in the middle range where these former government workers fit.
The advice one always gets when one is fed up with one’s current gig is to keep that job and look for the next one. But, obviously, unemployed people don’t have that luxury. So CSS suggests creating a temporary wage subsidy program where employers would be given an incentive to hire the long-term unemployed to help ease their transition back into work.