Flabby Skills Are Latest Worry For Unemployed The economy may be growing again, but not fast enough to bring down the unemployment rate. Long-term unemployment -- those without jobs for more than six months -- remains very high. And that has many economists worried about the effect on workers' skills. Host Liane Hansen talks with NPR's John Ydstie about an upcoming NPR series on the slow-growth economy and the effect on human capital.
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Flabby Skills Are Latest Worry For Unemployed

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Flabby Skills Are Latest Worry For Unemployed

Flabby Skills Are Latest Worry For Unemployed

Flabby Skills Are Latest Worry For Unemployed

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/131309130/131309096" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The economy may be growing again, but not fast enough to bring down the unemployment rate. Long-term unemployment — those without jobs for more than six months — remains very high. And that has many economists worried about the effect on workers' skills. Host Liane Hansen talks with NPR's John Ydstie about an upcoming NPR series on the slow-growth economy and the effect on human capital.

LIANE HANSEN, Host:

NPR's economics correspondent John Ydstie will be reporting some of those stories. He's here to set the stage for us. Welcome, John.

JOHN YDSTIE: Hi, Liane.

HANSEN: First a definition. How long is long-term unemployment?

YDSTIE: Long-term unemployment defines anyone who's out of work for six months or more.

HANSEN: And elaborate on why long-term unemployment is so threatening to skill level.

YDSTIE: European countries found this out in recent decades when they had very high levels of long-term unemployment, according to an economist named Jacob Kirkegard.

JACOB KIRKEGARD: We are now at levels of long-term unemployment in the United States, where I think that concern really needs to be taken very seriously.

YDSTIE: Kirkegard is a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and we'll hear more from him in our series.

HANSEN: How close is the United States to those dangerous European levels of long-term unemployment?

YDSTIE: And one of those people that we talked to was Mike Hall(ph). He's a highly- trained systems engineer from California who's been out of work for more than two years. And he says he's been rejected from over a thousand jobs.

MIKE HALL: Really feels like society wants you to voluntarily walk out onto the ice flow. And I'm not ready for that. I'm too young...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HALL: ...to pack it all in. I've got a lot yet to offer.

YDSTIE: Mike Hall says he's now hearing from some hiring managers that they won't even consider someone who's unemployed. And we'll hear more about that in our series.

HANSEN: What happened to Europe's economy? And what might happen to this country if long-term unemployment isn't reduced?

YDSTIE: Now, we don't have that problem in the U.S. But we have developed a form of the European lack of mobility. They weren't as willing as Americans to move to get new jobs. Now, of course, because of falling home prices, many Americans can't afford to move to get a new job. So they remain unemployed or trapped in jobs that aren't taking full advantage of their skills.

HANSEN: What can the U.S. do to deal with this problem and really make sure that this doesn't damage the economy for the long-term?

YDSTIE: One effective thing that some European countries have done is to get unemployed people into training quickly, so their skills don't erode. But that costs lots of money, it takes lots of time.

HANSEN: NPR economics correspondent John Ydstie. Thank you, John.

YDSTIE: You're welcome.

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