As of April 2014, 3.5 million people have been jobless for 27 weeks or more, a truly staggering number. While many recent articles have addressed the problem of long-term unemployment, few have offered solutions. And of those that have, one potential solution has been notably overlooked -- the nonprofit sector.
If you're unemployed yourself, you'd be wise to consider the potential that nonprofits hold for your next job, and if you're a nonprofit employer, seeking your next hire from the talent pool that exists among the unemployed might be one of the smartest moves you can make.
An April 18 article from The Washington Post explains that the long-term unemployed have difficulty not only finding a job but also keeping one. The latest research on long-term unemployment has found that of those who had been out of work for six months or more, 23 percent secured a job within a few months of the study. But when checking in with the group a year later, more than a third were out of a job again or out of the labor force completely.
The root cause? Many who find themselves unemployed are taking low-paying, unstable jobs in industries incapable of supporting their long-term employment and career growth. This only gets worse in recession periods. As an analysis from FiveThirtyEight points out, those who lost their jobs during the height of the recession in 2009 were more than five times as likely to end up out of work for a year or longer than those who lost their jobs in 2007, before the recession hit. We're still experiencing that fallout today.
It's time to break the cycle. Something must be done to get these 3.5 million people back in the workforce and employed in stable positions. Continuing the conversation surrounding long-term unemployment is a start, but we need to look beyond the usual ideas. Let's start talking about the nonprofit sector and how it is uniquely positioned to contribute a solution to the long-term unemployment crisis.
Most people consider areas like retail, food service and manufacturing as key places for these unemployed individuals to find work. However, the nonprofit sector is the third largest in the U.S. -- only retail and manufacturing employ more people. A sector of this size holds obvious power to create meaningful and sustainable jobs for the unemployed, yet it is rarely recognized for its ability to put people back to work.
In fact, the nonprofit sector may be even better than industries like retail and manufacturing at creating jobs for the unemployed for two specific reasons: Nonprofits have a deep understanding of the long-term unemployed through their direct service work with this group; and the nonprofit sector is more likely to create stable, full-time jobs than retail and manufacturing.
An analysis of data on the long-term unemployed from 2008 to 2013 showed that 36 percent had a job 15 months later, but only 11 percent were in steady, full-time positions. To combat this issue, those struggling to find or keep a job should broaden their search to include the nonprofit sector, especially the largest segments of health care, education and social assistance, where stable jobs with good salaries are prevalent.
And here's one of the best things about returning to the workforce through a nonprofit job: even in the face of the recession, this sector has experienced growth. From 2007 to 2010, nonprofit employment grew 4 percent and wages increased 6.5 percent, while the for-profit sector saw a decrease of 8.4 and 8 percent, respectively. And at the height of the recession, from 2007 to 2009, the nonprofit sector added jobs at an average rate of 1.9 percent a year, while the for-profit sector lost jobs at an average rate of 3.7 percent a year. These figures indicate that we can continue to expect the nonprofit sector to provide long-term employment even in the face of tough economic times, making nonprofits an attractive option for those seeking stable jobs.
Granted, companies are often resistant to hiring individuals who have been jobless for more than a few months. Many employers have concerns that the long-term jobless have lost valuable skills while out of work. But given their direct service with this group, the nonprofit sector doesn't -- or certainly shouldn't -- believe that the longer a person has been unemployed, the less employable he or she is. In fact, one could make the argument that nonprofit CEOs -- particularly those providing safety net services -- are more in-tune, through their own work in the community, to the many factors contributing to this unemployment crisis.
Right now, there are 3.5 million long-term unemployed people with a wide-ranging set of knowledge, skills and experience who have a lot to offer and who, in the vast majority of cases, are eager to return to the workforce. Many possess significant work experience, college and even graduate-level education, a fresh perspective and a hunger to contribute to an organization. Isn't it time for us to consider the nonprofit sector as a solution to this crisis?
Lisa Brown Morton is CEO of Nonprofit HR.