Tackling Long-Term Unemployment

Last month, more than 175,000 jobs were added, with the national unemployment rate at 6.7 percent. San Francisco, for instance, has seen its unemployment rate decrease by nearly 50 percent. But for the 3.8 million Americans who remain long-term unemployed -- without a job for 27 weeks or more -- like Tom Ferriole, a San Francisco resident, this positive news likely brings little comfort.

After a career spanning roles in academia, corporate life and government, Tom was laid off and has unsuccessfully searched for a new job for months. Although people who are long-term unemployed may be just as qualified as those who are short-term unemployed, they increasingly face barriers to employment. And unfortunately, Tom's story has become more and more typical for many Americans.

In fact, long term unemployment remains at historically-high levels, afflicting groups from recently-discharged veterans to men and women with advanced college degrees and extensive work histories. That is why President Obama made it clear in his State of the Union Address that solving long-term joblessness is an essential national goal. It's clear that a collective effort is required from organizations across the private, public and non-profit sectors.

Fortunately, Tom is one of the first participants in Platform to Employment, which recently launched in San Francisco. The program -- created by The WorkPlace and supported by Citi Community Development, AARP Foundation and Walmart Foundation -- aims to put the long-term unemployed on a path back to work by providing career readiness programs, financial education and most importantly, trial job placement, with salaries covered by the program so employers can determine if the person is a good fit.

And more often than not, they are: as the program has already resulted in 70 percent of participants being placed in permanent employment. This compares with research that shows that individuals who are unemployed for six months typically have only a 10 percent chance of being re-employed. With this kind of support, the prospects of reemployment look good for Tom and his fellow Bay Area participants.

Tom says that now that he's involved with Platform to Employment, it's very clear that he and his fellow participants "didn't know what they didn't know" about job hunting. He has become more aware of the technical skills that will make him competitive in a 21st century economy -- especially in a market like San Francisco.

Long term unemployment affects people of all ages and backgrounds; it does not discriminate. Through a holistic approach, workforce development initiatives like Platform to Employment have helped crack the code. But we still have a long way to go -- much more can and needs to be done.

It is essential that employers, government and intermediaries work collectively to remove the barriers to employment. We are moving in the right direction, but we need to reaffirm our commitment to providing the appropriate tools and supports that will facilitate a transition back to the workforce. And with support from the community organizations and elected officials in cities like San Francisco, together we can build upon these efforts.

Authors: Bob Annibale is Global Director of Citi Community Development and Microfinance; Joe Carbone is President and CEO of the WorkPlace.