The chief victims of this shift in business behavior seem to be the long-term unemployed (more than six months), as some fascinating research by economists William Dickens and Rand Ghayad of Northeastern University suggests. By their estimates, virtually all the reduction in hiring falls on this group, regardless of their other characteristics (age, education, industry experience). Many firms seem to have concluded that the long-term jobless are damaged goods.

To test this, Ghayad e-mailed fake resumes to hundreds of firms in response to job postings. All the fictional candidates were 2005 college graduates with identical skills; they differed only in their length of unemployment (0-12 months) and experience in the hiring industry. The long-term unemployed received few responses. In many cases, software filters apparently eliminated their applications automatically. Similarly, six months of joblessness erased the value of industry experience. Employers preferred candidates with less joblessness over those who had worked in their industry.