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A Perspective from Main Street: Long-Term Unemployment and Workforce


The Federal Reserve's Community Development function promotes economic growth and financial stability for low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities and individuals through a range of activities including convening stakeholders, conducting and sharing research, and identifying emerging issues. Given the attenuating effects of long-term unemployment on the broader economic recovery and the particular issues facing LMI communities, in the fall of 2011, the Community Development function at the Reserve Banks of Atlanta, Dallas, Kansas City, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, San Francisco, and St. Louis worked with the Board of Governors to design an initiative to explore regional perspectives on this issue through a series of forums held throughout the country. Some of these regional forums consisted of small focus groups or listening sessions; others were larger in scope, with more formal agendas focusing on a particular demographic or employment sector. In most cases, forum participants represented either intermediary organizations that are involved in the delivery of workforce development services, local employers, or both. The objective of this initiative was to better understand the complex factors creating long-term unemployment conditions particularly in LMI communities and to identify promising workforce development strategies.1

This paper reports the key topics that emerged from the forums and offers examples of how those issues were reflected in different parts of the country and for different populations.2 Where noted, the paper provides context for the comments using secondary data sources or research findings. This paper does not attempt to be a comprehensive compilation of all the ideas and views that were expressed at the regional forums. Part I of this paper discusses labor force supply chain issues; part II discusses barriers; and part III discusses considerations and further research to address these issues. Appendixes to this paper provide a list of the forums and a sampling of related activities occurring within the Federal Reserve's Community Development function in 2012.


Since the 2007-09 recession, the national unemployment picture has been unfamiliar relative to historical trends in several ways. First, long-term unemployment rates are higher than at any time since 1948 and, second, unemployment remains high despite increasing job vacancy rates.3 As a result, the U.S. economy is struggling to grow under the weight of an overwhelming level of unproductive human capital.

Workforce development is, generally, a wide range of activities, policies, and programs employed by educational institutions, public and private social service providers, communities, economic developers, and employers to educate and organize a workforce and to support business and industry. The provision of workforce development can take many forms:

  • Individual-centric: a combination of social services, community supports, job training and education that positions an individual for success in the workforce, the community or region, or the organization
  • Societal- or sector-centric: initiatives that educate and train individuals to meet the needs of current and future business and industry in order to maintain a sustainable competitive economic environment in the community or region
  • Organizational-centric: training programs that provide existing and potential workers with the skills to complete tasks needed by employers to let the organizations stay competitive in a global marketplace4

Due to the many possible stakeholders and broad scope of services, it is difficult to create a narrow definition of workforce development. Nevertheless, workforce development is an essential component of community economic development, particularly in the wake of the recent financial crisis.

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1. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines "long-term unemployment" as joblessness for 27 weeks and longer. During the forums, Community Development staff used "chronic unemployment" and "long-term unemployment" interchangeably. Return to text

2. The challenges and recommendations contained in this report are recompiled from the regional forums, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Reserve System. Return to text

3. Ben S. Bernanke, Federal Reserve Board Chairman (2012), "Recent Developments in the Labor Market," speech delivered at the National Association for Business Economics Annual Conference, Washington, D.C., March 26 (  Leaving the Board ). Jeffrey Lacker, President, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond (2012), "Technology, Unemployment and Workforce Development in a Rapidly Changing World," speech delivered in Greensboro, North Carolina, May 7 (  Leaving the Board ). Return to text

4. Lyn E. Haralson (2010), "What is Workforce Development?" Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Bridges, (Spring),  Leaving the Board (accessed December 18, 2012). Return to text

A Perspective from Main Street: Long-Term Unemployment and Workforce Development Errata
On 1/31/13, this report was revised. Appendix A: List of Federal Reserve System Local Forums and Appendix B:
Reserve Bank Community Development-Related Activities and Next Steps were removed. They were replaced
with Appendix A: Reserve Bank Community Development-Related Activities and Next Steps and Appendix B: List of Forums and Forum Summary Notes.


Last update: February 4, 2013

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