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Jennifer G. Hickey Headshot

As Furloughed Workers Get Headlines, Don't Forget About the Long-Term Unemployed

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Even before the clock eclipsed 12:00 on October 1, local and national news media were in full swing with stories about the burdens facing approximately 13 percent of the federal workforce. Once Cinderella's golden carriage turned back into a pumpkin, the wave of human interest stories poured over the front pages of newspapers and onto our television screens.

Before a full day had passed, we heard of the worry some of the 800,000 federal workers had about being able to pay their bills if the shutdown dragged on. We heard their frustration. And local communities responded.

Small and large businesses alike were quick to come to their aid by providing the furloughed class with discounts on everything from meals and dry cleaning to yoga classes and drinks specials.

Georgetown University stepped up to offer free classes for those employees. Even Congress stepped up to say they would ensure furloughed employees would receive back pay.

As a journalist, I can see the shutdown from the media's perspective. These stories are ready-made.

As a former congressional staffer and government contractor, I can see the shutdown from their perspective. You put in long hours for little pay and even less thanks for your efforts.

There is another perspective, however, that has received scant attention. It is a perspective that I share with 39 percent of the U.S. workforce -- the long-term unemployed. I am a freelance writer by circumstance, not choice. Like 12.2 million other Americans, I have been seeking permanent work for more than 27 weeks.

Furloughed workers wonder how they will pay their bills until they receive back pay. We simply worry about paying the bills.

For the millions who have been laid off during the recession, no businesses offered free meals or other discounts the day after the pink slip arrived.

According to the communications officer Maggie Moore, the university "saw an acute need in our community and wanted to provide something of value to those who can't go to work."

It is hard to see how someone with a job is a more "acute need" than those who employers often view as having diminished skills. But universities and other institutions did not offer free classes. Being unemployed was unfortunate, but not newsworthy.

Unlike many furloughed employees, the days of the long-term unemployed are spent writing cover letters, searching job postings and rewriting and rewriting their resumes.

Each day that passes understandably increases the frustration of furloughed workers. For the long-term unemployed, studies show that each day that passes decreases their chances of finding permanent work.

The federal workers and civilian contractors are collateral damage in an ongoing war between Republicans and Democrats. They are victims of circumstance in the battle between the White House and Congress and they certainly would rather be on the job than at home.

In that sense, they are no different than the millions of Americans who go to bed every night hoping that tomorrow will be the day they return to the workforce. The media should not forget that -- or them.