When my friend Nicola quit her job in educational publishing, it was for understandable reasons: one of her colleagues was a bully, her boss was providing little support and work had become miserable. (I’ve changed her name.) She had a strong CV, a husband with a steady job and young children to spend time with so she decided to resign before finding a new job. She’s now been unemployed for a year and a half.
So many economies have been depressed for so long that Nicola’s predicament is common. But new and unpublished research from a young Lebanese PhD student, Rand Ghayad of Northeastern University in Boston, shows with horrible clarity what a wretched trap long-term unemployment is becoming.
(April was a good month for economics students elsewhere in Massachusetts: Thomas Herndon of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, delivered a reputational kneecapping to Harvard professors Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff when he discovered a spreadsheet error in their much-trumpeted paper “Growth in a Time of Debt” as part of a course assignment.)
Ghayad used a computer program to generate job applications that were standardised but varied along a few parameters – whether the imaginary applicant had worked in the relevant industry, had hopped a lot between jobs, and how long the applicant had been unemployed, if at all. Ghayad mailed 4,800 of these CVs off to apply for 600 vacancies, chosen to reflect a variety of city locations, seniority and industry. He then recorded which applications were offered an interview.