Long-term unemployment declined sharply last year in Ohio, and unemployed residents on average were jobless for shorter stretches of time, according to data analyzed by the Dayton Daily News.
The number of long-term unemployed residents decreased by 32 percent, which one of the largest declines in the nation, according to recently released data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But more than one-third of jobless Ohioans spend longer than six months searching for work, which some experts said is discouraging since the chances of finding a job decreases over time. And the decline does not necessarily mean most long-term jobless residents are finding employment.
Many people likely dropped out of the labor market as their unemployment benefits expired and they lost hope of finding work, experts said.
“The decline in long-term unemployment is not a uniformly good thing,” said Greg Lawson, policy analyst with the Buckeye Institute, a conservative-leaning research organization. “There are some serious reasons for concern there.”
In 2012, about 151,000 Ohioans were unemployed for 27 weeks or longer, and of those 111,000 were unemployed for a year or longer, according to data from the labor department.
Last year, the number of Ohioans who were out of work for more than six months dropped by about 71,000 workers, or 32 percent.
Only four states saw larger declines in long-term unemployment: South Dakota (-40 percent), Indiana (-36 percent) and Kansas and Arizona (-34 percent).
In 2012, the average length of time jobless Ohioans were out of work also decreased to 36.6 weeks, down from 40.1 weeks in 2011.
These trends represent both an improvement in the labor market and a reduction in labor force participation, said Thomas Traynor, economics professor with Wright State University.
Labor force participation in Ohio dropped last year to historic lows. Some Ohioans land jobs even after going more than six months without work. But often, the longer a jobless person searches for work, the less likely they are to find it, Traynor said.
“The biggest problem is one of long-term unemployment increasing the chance of remaining unemployed,” Traynor said.
Some employers view gaps in work history as a cause for concern.
Oftentimes, they fear the long-term unemployed have lost some of their job skills since the last time they worked, said Heidi Shierholz, a labor market economist with the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.
Shierholz said there is little evidence that most workers’ job skills erode while unemployed for a relatively short period of time.
She said employers mainly do not hire people who have been jobless for long periods, because they wrongly believe the unemployment is the fault of the job applicants when really it is a result of hiring remaining extremely weak.
“Our elevated unemployment today is not due to a skills mismatch — it is due to a lack of demand for work to be done,” she said. “Really, it’s not their fault — we are literally in a situation where millions of people will be unnecessarily unemployed no matter what they do.”
Long-term unemployment likely decreased in Ohio last year because many discouraged workers exited the workforce as their unemployment benefits expired, Shierholz said.
Recipients of unemployment compensation must meet certain work-search requirements, and people will continue to look for work to receive benefits when otherwise they would give up on the job hunt, she said.
“It keeps them looking for work, which is a good thing because it may increase the share of the long-term unemployed who ultimately find jobs,” she said.
But Lawson, with the Buckeye Institute, disagrees. He said many job openings go unfilled because employers cannot find workers with the skills they need, and work abilities certainly can fade over time.
Some job openings are not filled because extended unemployment benefits provide the jobless with a disincentive to find work quickly, he said.
Jobless Ohioans can choose not to accept lower-quality jobs that are available because they know they can still receive government support, he said. Long-term government benefits allow workers to hold out for better jobs, which may never be available, he said.
A lack of urgency in the job hunt means unemployed workers are likely to stay that way longer, decreasing the chances of them becoming gainfully employed again, he said.
“(Extended federal unemployment benefits) change the way in which people try to find jobs,” he said. “We think it facilitates people staying unemployed for longer periods of time. … If they are not appropriately incentivized early on (to find work), they could lose their attractiveness to employers.”
Lawson said reducing how long jobless workers can receive extended unemployment benefits would force unemployed workers to speed up the job search, which would help them find work.
Unemployed workers can receive unemployment compensation for up to 63 weeks, according to the state. Extended unemployment benefits are set to expire on Dec. 31 of this year.
Some liberal-leaning groups said failing to extend jobless benefits would hurt needy families and cause many jobless Ohioans to fall into poverty, which would result in their needing other types of government assistance.
Doug Deger, 56, of Dayton, was laid off in March from a sales job he held for about 10 years. He has been unemployed for nearly six months.
“I’ve read articles saying that if you are not working by six months and you are in your 50s, then forget it,” he said.
Deger, who has decades of sales experience, said he came very close to being hired by a few companies, including one shortly after he was let go.
But he never received an offer, and he said the job hunt got harder with each passing month because employers do not seem particularly keen on hiring older workers who are unemployed.
He said companies today receive stacks of applications and resumes, and it is hard to stand out. Deger said he was turned down on Thursday for a job that was nearly identical to the work he did for the last decade. He previously sold computers and cable products.
Deger is headed back to school in the hopes of finding entry-level work in the medical field, which has seen some of the largest job growth of any industry.
He said his sales experience should translate well into patient access services, even though he expects to earn only about half of what he did in his prior occupation.
Deger said unemployment benefits have provided important support, but he is eager to return to work and work another 10 years then retire.
“I am a staunch Republican and I’ve always had a good work ethic and wanted to do it on my own,” he said. “I am not ashamed of (receiving benefits), but I’m not thrilled by it, but I am glad it’s there.”
Jobless Ohioans can combat perceptions of skills erosion by visiting one-stop job centers across the state, which provide work-search assistance and job training, said said Hannah Halbert, policy liaison with Policy Matters Ohio.
Unemployed Ohioans should try to maintain their business contacts and continue to network, because that can help with the job search, she said. Volunteering also keeps workers active and looks good on the resume.