James Surowiecki, The New Yorker's economics writer has a hard-to-read column on the long-term unemployed:
Though the job market has shown some signs of life in recent months, the latest figures on new jobs and on unemployment-insurance claims have been decidedly unimpressive. We are stuck with an unemployment rate three points higher than the postwar average, and the percentage of working adult Americans is as low as it’s been in almost thirty years. What’s most troubling is that so much of this unemployment is long-term. Forty per cent of the unemployed have been without a job for six months or more—a much higher rate than in any recession since the Second World War—and the average length of unemployment is about forty weeks, a number that has changed very little since 2010. The economic recovery has now lasted nearly three years, but for millions of Americans it hasn’t yet begun. (emphasis CJ's)Why is it bad that people are unemployed for a long time?
The longer people are unemployed, the harder it is for them to find a job (even after you control for skills, education, and so on). Being out of a job can erode people’s confidence and their sense of possibility; and employers, often unfairly, tend to take long-term unemployment as a signal that something is wrong. A more insidious factor is that long-term unemployment can start to erode job skills, making people less employable. One extraordinary study of Swedish workers, for instance, found that there was a strong correlation between time out of work and declining skills: workers who had been out of work for a year saw their relative ability to do something as simple as process and use printed information drop by five percentile points.
My speculation: I suspect there is an unusually high number of older chemists in the long-term unemployed numbers; I suspect many of them have been forced into early retirement by layoffs, plant closures and their difficulty in finding a new position. Certainly, the bump in unemployment in cohorts older than 40 in the ACS member unemployment rate is evidence of (or does not refute) this problem.
One hopes that someone attempts to collect and/or use all of their knowledge to some greater purpose. (Wild speculation: A faster fiscal response would have been for the governmental research/regulatory complex to have absorbed a majority of these workers, as opposed to just some of them. Also, I wonder if foreign governments and/or internationally-based companies have been fishing for long-term unemployed scientists in the United States particularly aggressively.)
One last thing: look at that average length of unemployment. 40 weeks. 40 weeks! That's 10 months, or 77% of a year. Financial gurus who tell you that a family's emergency fund should be smaller than 6 months are actively doing their patrons a disservice. In my opinion, a proper emergency fund should be much closer to 12 months' expenses.