“It wasn’t that the skills were going; it’s that my memory wasn’t as good,” says Brian Hatfield, a 33-year-old from Escondido, California. After a recent, one-year bout of unemployment, he says had forgotten a few minor, basic skills from his former administrative and retail jobs. But it wasn’t those that troubled him — he found himself getting duller and slower in day-to-day conversations.
He might not use the term, but Hatfield is describing a phenomenon economists call skill erosion, the tendency of the long-term unemployed to lose their skills (and therefore their value) in the labor market. Even while the headline unemployment rate falls, those who have been out of work for a long time, sometimes years, are feeling the lingering damage of the recession on a personal level. And even while the number of unemployed falls, the share who are out of work six months or more remains abnormally high.