We've talked a lot about how President Obama came into office facing the worst recession since the Great Depression. We've spent less time discussing another looming economic crisis: the plight of America's long-term unemployed.
Right now, nearly half -- 45 percent -- of the unemployed in this country have been out of work for six months or longer. The average period of unemployment lasts 40.5 weeks, the highest average since we began collecting this data in 1948.
At some point, the time you spend looking for a job itself becomes an impediment to finding work. Your skills erode and potential employers begin question to why other businesses haven't hired you.
Long-term unemployment is more than just a personal crisis. It can cause lasting and significant damage to the nation's economy.
In today's Wall Street Journal, Gene Sperling, director of President Obama's National Economic Council, argued that helping these individuals get back into the workforce is one reason why we need to take action now:
To see this type of economic hardship and choose not to put forward any immediate measures for job creation means turning a blind eye to the national crisis of long-term unemployment. It means saying that it is acceptable to sit on our hands in the face of projections of 1.5% to 2% growth in an economy where over 14 million people are already out of work and high unemployment is feeding weakness in the housing market. President Obama categorically disagrees.
The American Jobs Act lays out a specific set of proposals to offer targeted assistance to these people:
It includes a tax credit for hiring the long-term unemployed and veterans, and a ban on hiring discrimination against the unemployed. It also calls for major reforms to our unemployment-insurance system, including wage insurance to assist workers whose new job pays less than their old, a "Bridge to Work" program to help the unemployed reconnect with the labor force through temporary work, job-search assistance for all long-term unemployed, and support for unemployed workers looking to become entrepreneurs.
Of course, the President's plan will also help to create as many as 1.9 million jobs, according to independent economists. It will also lower unemployment and grow the economy by as much as 2 percent.
The time to take action is now; we can't afford to wait. As Sperling said, "The moment is too serious. The stakes are too high."