Thomas Oliver: Joblessness creates long-term problems

This column is not for the faint of heart.

Or for those who have been driven to their wits’ end by the weather.

Everyone, it seems, has cabin fever. Tired of overcoats and cold feet, ducking wintry winds, watching the Weather Channel and asking whether General Lee or Punxsutawney Phil saw their shadows and . . . what does that mean again?

We are also edgy when it comes to the economy.

We got two new sets of unemployment numbers. Neither calms the nerves.

The one from the state showed another increase in joblessness. The one from the feds showed little official change, though we continue to lose jobs.

But the real unemployment story is not this month’s or next month’s headlines. It's the number of jobs lost in this recession and the long-term unemployed.

Behind the official unemployment rate lays the real unemployment picture. “Total unemployment” includes those unemployed who are looking for work (the official number), part-timers who would rather work full-time and discouraged workers who aren’t currently looking for work but would if jobs were available.

There are now 25 million Americans, or 16.8 percent of the workforce, wanting full-time work.

In Georgia, that translated in December to a total unemployment rate of 16.9 percent, or 794,300 people under- or unemployed.

With unemployment lasting an average of 30 weeks, we've just begun to talk about the effect long-term unemployment has on a worker’s ability to gain employment. Employers prefer to hire people already working.

They rarely look favorably on someone who has been out of work for a long time.

Nationally, those out of work for six months or longer stands just above 40 percent, or 6.1 million, of the officially unemployed last month.

In Georgia, the percentage of those out of work for six months or longer as of December was 35.8 percent, or 168,200 Georgia residents.

It doesn’t get any better when you look at the jobs destroyed by this recession.

Nationally, we’re talking about 8.4 million jobs lost since December 2007, when the recession began.

In Georgia, 400,000 jobs have disappeared; 240,900 of those were in metro Atlanta, according to our state labor department.

In 2005, the best year for adding new jobs in Georgia during that go-go decade, we averaged 9,000 new jobs a month. Assuming a robust return to hiring at half that rate, it would take us more than seven years to replenish the lost jobs.

In other words, we would be close to the end of this new decade before we restored the 400,000 jobs already lost.

By then, we would have a sizeable segment of the workforce deemed “permanently” unemployed. They would mostly be men, joined by boys who may never become men, if manhood is partially defined by work. The unemployment rate for men 16 and older stands at 10.7, compared to 8.6 for women 16 and older.

The legacy of the Great Recession may be in redefining “full employment,” which will no longer mean those willing and able have jobs.

Thomas Oliver writes the Sunday business column. He can be reached at