Huffpost Business
Arthur Delaney Headshot

Long-Term Unemployment On Long Island Examined In New Film

Posted: Updated:
UNEMPLOYMENT
Alan Fromm all alone on the beach in HBO's "Hard Times: Lost on Long Island." | AP

When he first lost his job, Alan Fromm didn't think unemployment would be too difficult for him to handle. After all, he'd been through a lot in his life.

"I was struck by lightning when I was 15. I had heart trouble when I was 21," he says. "I was at the World Trade Center -- I'd just started a new job -- when it was bombed for the first time. And a few months after that I was on the Long Island Rail Road when Colin Ferguson shot all those people. And most recently I was in the World Trade Center when it collapsed.

"So you put all this stuff into perspective, being unemployed is something I can deal with very easily."

It turned out to be harder than he expected. Fromm's struggle with a jobless spell that lasted longer than a year is shown in "Hard Times: Lost on Long Island," an HBO documentary premiering at the Hamptons Film Festival this Saturday.

The movie's producers, Daphne Pinkerson and Marc Levin, say their film combats the myth that the unemployed are lazy. It's the third in a series of labor-focused films, the first looking at the decline of New York City's garment industry and the second a take on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911.

"Hard Times" follows Fromm and a handful of other white collar Long Island families coping with the anxiety and despair of long-term joblessness. Pinkerson said she and Levin tracked Fromm for six months starting in 2010, accompanying him to the hospital when he donated blood and joining him at a diner where he commiserated with other jobless folks. Where, they wanted to know, had they gone wrong?

Fromm, a former corporate trainer, describes being turned down for a job driving a FedEx truck during the holidays. "They told me I was overqualified."

He says he never thought this could happen to him: "Everybody thinks their job is important, so like a lot of other people I thought my job was safe."

Workers with college degrees are much less likely to be unemployed, but once they lose their jobs they're no less likely than high school grads to be out of work for 99 weeks or longer. And baby boomers, like the folks shown in "Hard Times," are twice as likely as younger jobless people to stay unemployed for that long.

"There are days that I just feel like it's not even worth getting out of bed in the morning," Fromm says at one point in the film. "I actually took out the life insurance policies to see how the family would be taken care of if I were no longer here."

Arthur Delaney is the author of "A People's History of the Great Recession," HuffPost's first e-book.