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U.S. long term unemployment: Unasked questions and unwanted answers

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While millions of able bodied, experienced Americans are in long term or permanent unemployment, only a handful of questions are asked. Unasked questions help researchers and governments who want to ignore unwanted answers. An April 7 NBC News article gives standard explanations for an estimated five million Americans who have left labor force participation, but it is time for more robust research. At 63 percent, the labor force participation rate is the lowest since 1978.

An April 7 Pew Research report estimates that ten million are unemployed, overall. The U.S. had a 6.7 percent unemployment rate at the end of 2013.


The labor force participation rate tells the whole story about unemployment. It accounts for working age Americans (16 or over) who were either at work or actively seeking work during the most recent four week period.

Now, only 63 out of 100 unemployed people show signs of actively looking for work.


The standard explanations say that more women must go to work. Older people are more likely to retire after a layoff. A huge wave of baby boomers are retiring, but will still have to work to make ends meet.

But some unemployed trade in underground micro-economies. Others fall from illness or addiction. Others live frugally. Still more have found alternatives to the traditional corporate or business career. These explanations for long term corporate unemployment are not nearly as well researched.


The truth is an unhappy matter. Investors are hoarding. They are not creating productive jobs. House Republicans are obstructing government from funding and fixing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.


Prescription or street drug addiction and abuse is large. Heroin is the new cocaine. Cocaine is still cocaine. Alcohol is still alcohol. Marijuana is a fact of life. As a result, the work environment is often unhealthy even for sober people. Some workers enter a downward spiral that continues until it takes an enormous effort to rehabilitate them for return to work.

It is easier to invite more immigrant labor.

Dysfunctional management, bad office politics and bizarre executive policy is rampant. There is no shortage of job uncertainty, work related stress, untreated mental illness, conflict, unethical behavior and worker abuse. Workers are wary of investing their careers in working for others.

The prime working age has become a devastating handicap. The NBC News article quoted Dean Baker, who is at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Baker paid attention to “prime age workers” aged 25 to 54. The best part of America’s workforce is allegedly both too old for extensive retraining and too young for retirement.

Baker said,

“These people just didn’t decide to drop out of the labor market,”


The nooks and crannies of America’s growing underground labor economy remain invisible until a business becomes a criminal matter or emerges to register itself with the government.

America’s alternative economy operates much like the nation’s original economy: It is under the radar, in the dark web and at home. It exploits discount, surplus and private markets. It operates in the streets. It often bypasses technology and favors human production.


In summary, it is time for labor and economic researchers (and policy makers as well) to go beyond their limited interests and to pay attention to other truths about the long term unemployed.


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