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How to Get the Long-Term Unemployed Back to Work

Two novel initiatives offer hope to the millions of chronically jobless Americans over 50

By Richard Eisenberg

Although things seem to be looking up on the job front (claims for state unemployment benefits just fell to their lowest level since January 2008), the same can’t be said for America’s long-term unemployed, especially those over 50. 

  • Nearly 40 percent of unemployed Americans — roughly 4.8 million people — have been jobless for six months or longer. About half of them are over age 50.
  • Some 3.25 million Americans, CNN says, are “hopelessly unemployed.” They haven’t looked for work in more than a year because they’ve simply given up the search. They’re not even counted for the official unemployment rate.
  • Roughly 1.5 million of the unemployed are “99ers,” out of work for 99 weeks or longer.
  • The average time someone stays unemployed is now about 10 months, twice as long as six years ago, according to NPR.
  • The Facebook page for the multimedia project, Over Fifty and Out of Work, is filled with postings like this one: "I am a 60-year-old male, I have been in the construction industry since I was 20, the last 16 as a superintendent or project manager. I was laid off August 1, 2010. I have not found but 3 months work since then. I have sent over 300 resumes to advertised jobs. I am in financial ruin."

2 Programs That Could Help the Jobless
I’m hopeful, however, that two novel ventures could help put some of those recession victims back to work.
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The first is the national rollout of the successful Platform to Employment program created by Joe Carbone at The WorkPlace in western Connecticut.
You may have seen last year’s 60 Minutes piece about Carbone’s novel approach to getting the long-term unemployed back to work. I blogged about Platform to Employment around that time.
A National Platform to Employment Rollout
Platform to Employment gives jobless people five weeks of training to restore their confidence, freshen their interviewing and tech skills and reduce their stress. Then the program places them as interns for eight weeks at a local employer.
At the end of the internships, the employers decide whether to offer the interns paid positions.
Most of them do.
“We’ve had a success rate of 75 percent,” says Carbone, president and chief executive officer of The WorkPlace. “Normally, the success rate for the long-term unemployed getting back to work is 10 to 15 percent. We’ve shown that given the right tools and services, these folks can become part of the labor force.”
(MORE: A Must-See Film on Being Over 50 and Out of Work)
Platform to Employment is about to start replicating the program in 10 cities, specifically for unemployed residents over 50 and military veterans. AARP Foundation and Citi Community Development are partners for the “over 50” offerings; the Walmart Foundation is the force behind veterans assistance. Together, the three groups have committed more than $1.5 million to the effort.
Dallas and Cincinnati programs will open in February, Chicago in March and San Diego in April. Boston, Detroit, Miami, Minneapolis, Denver and San Francisco will follow later in the year.
“Every one of these will become a center of hope,” Carbone says.
He expects other cities will sign up, too. “There are about 25 more regions that are very excited,” he says. “Some are chomping at the bit.”
Earning Less, but Working
Carbone concedes that all the Platform to Employment participants who’ve been hired earn less than they did before they lost their jobs. “Yet they’re all very happy because they’re working,” he says.  
Susan Sipprelle, creator of the Over 50 and Out of Work multimedia project and writer/producer of the award-winning unemployment documentary, Set for Life, echoes Carbone.
“Most of the 100 unemployed Americans over 50 we initially interviewed have been able to find jobs over the past year or so," she says, "but they’re part-time or for much less money than they earned prior to the Great Recession.”
The JobRaising Challenge
The second jobs initiative that excites me is the JobRaising Challenge — and you can play a role.
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It’s a new crowd-funding competition from the Skoll Foundation, CrowdRise,The Huffington Post and McKinsey & Company. The Skoll Foundation will award a total of $250,000 to nonprofits who demonstrate “the most promising, scalable employment solutions.”
Here’s how it works: Between now and March 1, members of the public go to the JobRaising Challenge’s website,, and donate money (from $10 to $10,000 per donor) to any of the 74 competing nonprofits they think would be best at fighting the jobs crisis. The groups raising the most money will win the prize money.
What You Can Do
If you or someone you know is over 50, has been out of work for many months and lives in one of the Platform to Employment cities, I urge you to consider enrolling in its program.
And if you’d like to help create work for America’s unemployed, go to the JobRaising Challenge site and donate to your favorite nonprofit contender.
In his inauguration speech, President Barack Obama said it well: “No matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss.”
With initiatives like Platform to Employment and the JobRaising Challenge, maybe there’ll be more hope for Americans who find themselves in that position.
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Photograph of Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the former Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and former Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of "How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis" and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Read More
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