Economy

White House offers help for long-term jobless

President Barack Obama on Tuesdya urges Congress to extend unemployment insurance benefits during an event in the White House East Room.
President Barack Obama on Tuesdya urges Congress to extend unemployment insurance benefits during an event in the White House East Room. MCT

The Obama administration unveiled Wednesday the expansion of its efforts to aid the long-term unemployed with grants to help get the jobless back into the workplace.

President Barack Obama in January launched an effort to remove obstacles for the long-term unemployed, getting major corporations to adopt “best practices” in human-resources departments designed to ensure the long-time jobless aren’t screened out of the possibility of face-to-face employment interviews.

On Wednesday, the Labor Department announced 23 grants given to 20 states and Puerto Rico to attack the problem of long-term unemployed, which numbered 3 million through September, the latest reading. The grants will be used by local organizations and governments to match jobless workers with sectors that need workers.

Vice President Joe Biden and other administration officials met with chief human resources officers of large companies that have worked to bring in the long-term unemployed. Deloitte Consulting and the Rockefeller Foundation also released a handbook that employers can use to better catch applicants who are among the long-term jobless.

To be considered long-term unemployed, a worker must be jobless and seeking employment for 27 weeks or longer. The current rate of 1.9 percent is more than twice the historical average as a percentage of all workers in the labor force, but has come down from the December 2013 rate of 2.5 percent.

Some economists fear that the stubbornly high rate of long-term joblessness, which characterizes the Great Recession and its aftermath, will leave millions of Americans with insufficient skills to reenter the workforce.

“I categorically reject the notion that the long-term unemployed are unemployable,” Labor Secretary Tom Perez told reporters on a conference call ahead of the announcement.

Critics of the Obama administration allege that the number of long-term jobless has fallen because many have simply exited the workforce.

“The long-term number has fallen because the economy has picked up,” insisted Jeff Zients, director of the president’s National Economic Council.

The unemployment rate fell to 5.9 percent in September, the lowest it has been since June 2008.

Wednesday’s announcements are likely to rekindle debate about the failure of Congress to extend benefits to the long-term jobless. Such extensions had been common throughout the post-recession period but came to an end at the start of the year.

“The president by no means is giving up,” said Perez, adding that he has recently held discussions in the Senate to explore the chances of bringing up the issue again.

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