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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And Robert Siegel.

Some 6 million Americans have been out of work for six months or longer. They're known as the long-term unemployed. For many, the longer they're out of the workforce, the harder it is to get back in.

As part of our "Road Back to Work" series, NPR's Tamara Keith gives us a glimpse of what it's like to be on the job hunt as weeks turn to months, and months to years.

Mr. RAY MEYER: OK. It's Ray Meyer, Sunday, January 23rd. And I'm going on the Internet and trying to find some jobs.

TAMARA KEITH: Meyer is 55 years old, and lost his job as a regional bank�manager more than two years ago. He had spent a 30-year career in banking.

Ms. CASAUNDRA BRONNER: This is Casaundra. It's January 11th, 2011. I'm about to apply online for a marketing administrative assistant position.

KEITH: Casaundra Bronner has been unemployed for just over a year. She's 39 and spent 11 years at�Anheuser-Busch, working her way up to a marketing manager job. Both Bronner and Meyer want to get back to some semblance of the careers they had before. And both have been documenting their job search by keeping audio diaries.

Mr. MEYER: Let's try Craigslist.

(Soundbite of typing)

Mr. MEYER: Dependability, reliability - piece of cake. Attitude - piece of cake. Flexibility - piece of cake. Quality of work, teamwork - oh, I can do all those.

Ms. BRONNER: I am about to send this off and cross my fingers. Here goes nothing. Send.

KEITH: There are the 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.

Ms. BRONNER: (Reading) Dear Casaundra, while impressed by your credentials, after reviewing your resume, we have decided to pursue other candidates.

KEITH: For Ray Meyer, the frustration and financial stress have been building.

Mr. MEYER: I'll be real honest with you. I just - I don't understand, with my background and my experience, why I'm not getting any calls back in for some of these jobs.

KEITH: 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.

Mr. MEYER: Hi, Kathy(ph), this is Ray Meyer.

KEITH: Today, Meyer is making phone calls, networking with old friends at banks where he'd like to work.

Mr. MEYER: And just, you know, I've tried places other than banking, but most places are afraid of hiring me for fear that when things do pick back up again, I'll leave, you know, them and go back to the bank. So, it's damned if I do and damned if I don't, you know.

KEITH: For the long-term unemployed, the issues Meyer faces are the norm. Bill Emmons is an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Mr. BILL EMMONS (Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis): Your job network starts to dry up. People won't return your calls. The stigma that your potential new employer says, this guy is - you know, he's been out of work for 18 months; what's wrong with him? Then it, you know, feeds back on itself.

KEITH: Bronner is a single mom with two daughters in elementary school. And her job search is getting urgent.

Ms. BRONNER: I just got home from church. I really enjoyed the preacher's sermon this morning. I even got him to do a special prayer over me about my job situation. And he believes, and I believe, that I will find something really soon.

KEITH: 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.

Ms. BRONNER: I am nervous because I haven't been on an interview in a while - and interviews make me nervous anyway. So I'm preparing: I'm going over my questions, I'm going over the job description - kind of getting myself together here for this interview.

KEITH: Once the interview starts, Bronner records her end of the conversation.

Ms. BRONNER: From the job description, it seems like it's - touches on a lot of things that I have experience with: managing workflow, handling multiple projects, dealing with internal customers as well as external customers - just kind of keeping everything going.

KEITH: 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 a little more than an hour.

Ms. BRONNER: Just call me back.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRONNER: I think that's it. OK, thank you. You, too. All right, bye-bye.

KEITH: 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.

Ray 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.

Mr. MEYER: I really need a job, and if I have to take this data entry position just to have a little bit of extra cash, then I'll sure as heck do it.

KEITH: 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 to the career he loves.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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