Whitney Curtis for NPR
Ray Meyer, 55, of Kirkwood, Mo., has been unemployed since December 2008.
Ray Meyer, 55, of Kirkwood, Mo., has been unemployed since December 2008. Whitney Curtis for NPR
Part of an ongoing series
The government has a name for the 6 million Americans who have been unemployed for six months or longer: the long-term unemployed. And for many, the longer they're out of work, the harder it is to get back in.
For Ray Meyer, 55, who lost his job as a regional bank manager more than two years ago, logging on to his computer to search for job listings has become a daily routine. He had spent a 30-year career in banking.
Reading from a Craigslist posting, he adds his own commentary to the ad's list of desired traits. "Dependability, reliability. Piece of cake," Meyer says. "Attitude. Piece of cake. Flexibility. Piece of cake. Quality of work, teamwork. Oh, I can do all of those."
Meyer wants to get back to some semblance of a career he had before.
So does Casaundra Bronner. Bronner, 39, has been unemployed for just over a year. She spent 11 years at Anheuser-Busch working her way up to a marketing manager job.
"Here goes nothing," says Bronner as she sends yet another application.
For Bronner and Meyer, there have been little victories: the encouraging recruiters, the friends who say they can help make a connection, the job interviews. And then there are the defeats: the applications, dozens of them that seem like they're going into a black hole, the rejections by form letter.
"Dear Casaundra: While impressed by your credentials, after reviewing your resume we have decided to pursue other candidates," Bronner reads from a recent rejection letter.
For Meyer, the frustration and financial stress have been building.
"I'll be real honest with you," Meyer says. "I don't understand, with my background and my experience, why I'm not getting any calls back in for some of these jobs."
Meyer's unemployment benefits ran out in November after 99 weeks. You'd think after two years of hustling, of applying for every banking job that comes up, and quite a few low-wage retail positions, too, Meyer would let up — or give up. But he hasn't.
"I've tried places other than banking but most places are afraid of hiring me," Meyer says. He says they're afraid he'll leave them for a banking job. "It's damned if I do and damned if I don't."
For the long-term unemployed, the issues Meyer faces are the norm.
"Your job network starts to dry up. People won't return your calls," says Bill Emmons, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. "The stigma that your potential new employer says, 'This guy, he's been out of work for 18 months, what's wrong with him?' Then it feeds back on itself."
It's a Sunday morning in late January and Bronner is submitting her weekly application for unemployment insurance.
Whitney Curtis for NPR
Casaundra Bronner, 39, of Hazelwood, Mo., worked in marketing before being laid off in March 2010 from Anheuser-Busch.
Casaundra Bronner, 39, of Hazelwood, Mo., worked in marketing before being laid off in March 2010 from Anheuser-Busch. Whitney Curtis for NPR
"Each time I do this I hope that it's the last time I have to do it," she says. "It's just a slap-in-the-face reminder that I am unemployed."
Bronner is a single mother with two daughters in elementary school. And her job search is getting urgent.
Later that morning, at church, she asks the pastor to say a special prayer for her.
"He believes and I believe that I will find something really soon," she says.
And then things do start to look up. She gets a call from a recruiter. He's hiring for a marketing position at a company where she'd love to work. They arrange a phone interview.
Before the interview, she's nervous. She hasn't had an interview in a while. But once the interview starts, Bronner seems to be at ease, describing her skills and making the pitch for why she should get the job. In all, the interview lasts more than an hour.
"Just call me back," she says just before hanging up.
Two weeks later, she's still waiting. Apparently there were hundreds of applicants, and it will still be a while before any decision is made. Bronner remains hopeful.
Meyer also has his hopes up. He's had a couple of interviews at banks recently, though no job offers yet. In the meantime, something else comes up — a lead on a temporary data entry job.
"I really need a job," Meyer says. "If I have to take this data entry position to have a little bit of extra cash, then I'll sure as heck do it."
Meyer took the job. It's on the graveyard shift. He's hardly sleeping. But he's glad to be working and still searching for the job that will get him back in the career he loves.