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Long-term Unemployment Diminishes Job Seeker Confidence

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Janice Pratt, Tampa jobseeker.
Janice Pratt, Tampa jobseeker.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Janice Pratt came here in the 1980s for the booming local economy, but now the city's unemployment rate is 9 percent. She hasn't had steady work since 2008 when she lost her job with a tech company after a lengthy marketing career.

Pratt fears the mere fact that she is unemployed is hurting her chances of landing a job, both because employers don't want to hire the jobless and because she's losing her confidence.

"With every interview I can usually rev myself up pretty good, but now, I'm a nervous wreck usually," Pratt said in an interview (during which she was all poise and no nerves).

She doesn't tell her friends when she lands an interview to soften the letdown if she doesn't get the job. "My husband will be the only one I'll tell. It's too embarrassing," she said. "If I blow it, then it's just me and my husband, and I'll get over it."

Lost confidence is a major problem for the roughly 5 million Americans facing long-term unemployment. The government has encouraged state and local officials to set up "job clubs" where peer-to-peer support and grief counseling help jobseekers overcome the anxiety of joblessness. (New Jersey recently launched a statewide job clubs initiative.)

Another thing going against Pratt is her age -- she's 50. While the unemployment rate for older workers is lower than for the broader workforce, their jobless spells last much longer. According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, the average duration of unemployment for an older worker is nearly 52 weeks, compared with 38.8 weeks for the overall workforce. Many, including Pratt, suspect age discrimination, though it is all but impossible to prove.

Pratt said she's been making a little money freelancing, writing press releases and white papers. But it's not enough, she said, to prevent her and her husband from slowly sinking.

"I really do miss a regular paycheck," she said. "I don't have health insurance right now. I want to be able to contribute to a 401(k) instead of removing from my 401(k). I still have 15, 20 working years left. I feel that I can contribute to a company."

Pratt said she and her husband have considered moving to somewhere else for work, but they don't love the idea. What if they relocated and got laid off again? "Why, in this economy right now, would I trust any company?" she said.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, in Tampa this week for the Republican National Convention, is hoping the bad national economy will win him votes. Pratt, a Democrat, said it won't win hers.

"I'm going to be a distant observer," she said of the convention. "I thought about maybe driving around town but I heard somebody say they stop your car every block."

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