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Long-Term Unemployment Persists; 1.7 Million Are Jobless For At Least 99 Weeks

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Deidre Davis has been looking for work since 2010.
Deidre Davis has been looking for work since 2010.

Aug. 26, 2010 started as a normal day at the hotel call center where Deidre Davis worked in California. "And then toward the middle of the afternoon, people were being called into the office and coming out mad, or there was noise in the office and you’d never see them again."

Davis said she was one of 38 people who lost their jobs that day. She's still looking for work.

The U.S. Labor Department's monthly jobs report on Friday may offer a bit of hope for people in Davis' situation. The national unemployment rate fell from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent amid continued job growth, and the number of long-term unemployed shrank slightly. It's the first time the jobless rate has been below 8 percent since January 2009.

Still, Davis, who is 56 and lives in Lancaster, Calif., has lots of company as one of the nearly 5 million people who have been unemployed for at least six months. She also ranks among the 1.7 million out of work longer than 99 weeks. Yet even though she knows she's not alone, the experience is isolating.

"Sometimes you just feel like you're all by yourself," Davis said. "I hear what I hear on the news. I go into a store and people are working and they're not doing a very good job, but they've got a job. Where do I fit into this? It's frustrating."

At first, Davis said she searched for office work that was similar to what she'd done before her layoff. More recently, as her savings dwindle, she's lowered her sights.

"Now in the last six months I've applied at WalMart, Kmart, Sears," she said. She has found that the process of knocking on storefronts and being told to apply online is less than fun. "Nobody wants to talk to you anymore."

Recent research has confirmed something Davis suspected: Employers think less of unemployed job candidates, and longer unemployment spells mean fewer callbacks.

However, things seem to be looking somewhat better for the long-term jobless. A year ago, slightly more than 2 million people had been unemployed longer than 99 weeks. The number has declined by almost 300,000.

"I've kind of been going through [my savings] and I’m down to the last couple of grand," Davis said. "I know I can make it through December. I hope I can find a job by the beginning of the year because if not, I'm out of a house. I never saw myself in this position. I never thought I would not have a job to go to. I'm on my own."

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