Why Research Long-Term Unemployment?

Long term unemployment is commonly defined as unemployment lasting for longer than six months. Since the Great Recession of 2008, long-term unemployment has remained at persistently high levels in both Canada and the United States. For example, in the Province of Ontario, the share of the unemployed who were without work for six months or more was 11.7% in January 2008. In January of 2015 that figure stood at nearly 21%. In Missouri, an average of 31% of unemployed jobseekers had been jobless for six months or longer in 2014. The problem of long-term unemployment appears even more pressing if it is defined to include not only those unemployed for six months or longer, but also people who want to work but have given up active job-seeking as well as people who are underemployed. In Canada, for example, the underemployment rate in 2013 was 14.2%, which is twice the rate of unemployment. Long-term unemployment presents immense challenges for individuals including social marginalization, financial insecurity, detrimental health outcomes, and stigmatization. Long-term unemployment also makes other forms of labour market disadvantage worse. For example, research shows that racialized people and older workers are disproportionately represented among the long-term unemployed.

While more people are experiencing long-term unemployment, recent reforms to income security programs have limited the availability of benefits to people who are unemployed. In both Canada and the United States, legislators have introduced tighter eligibility and job search requirements for those seeking benefits. The reasoning behind these reforms is that unemployment is an individual choice, or failure, rather than the result of broader social, economic or political conditions. Additionally, most employment service delivery models that encourage rapid re-employment are often limited in their ability to address the situations of individuals experiencing long-term unemployment. The narrow scope of these responses to unemployment are especially problematic given the complex nature of the challenges that joblessness poses in everyday life. The troubling persistence of long-term unemployment calls for research that can identify the limits of existing policies and service delivery models, as well as opportunities to create support for the unemployed in more adequate and socially just ways.