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Unemployed for six months or more – and still looking for a job

The number of long-term unemployed – 6.1 million – is the most since the US started keeping track in 1948. Here is a look at some of these people as they search for a job.

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Sally Kennamer, who has been out of work since August 2007, has experienced that firsthand. The resident of Grand Rapids, Mich., who is searching for a job as an administrative assistant, estimates that she's sent out thousands of résumés. But she's had only three interviews.

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If she could get a foot in the door, she says, she would tell potential employers that she's loyal and that in her nine years at her prior job, she missed only two days of work because of illness or other personal matters. "But I'm competing with so many people, it's hard to tell your story," she says.

A support system

People who have been out of work for a long time need some kind of "community" to support and encourage them, says Elsa Bengel, executive director of Training Inc., a program of the YMCA of Greater Boston. The group works with "middle skill" workers, such as support and service staff.

"They need emotional support as well as skills," Ms. Bengel says.

Toward that end, her organization posts the résumés of the people they are working with on a wall. After someone finds work, the person getting the job rings a bell, and Training Inc. places a "HIRED" sticker on the résumé. "We celebrate. Jobs are miraculous occurrences," she says.

And it gives encouragement to those still searching. "There was a woman who had stopped looking," Bengel recalls. "But then she came back and looked at people in her group who had gotten jobs. We tell them they have to work at this every day."

Some professional coaches for the unemployed counsel them to remain engaged, talking to former colleagues and following up at companies that turned them down earlier. "I say to people, 'Stay in the game,'" says Jeffrey Redmond, a partner at New Directions, a company in Boston that coaches senior executives. "The conditions will improve, and the people who are in the game, stayed active, spreading word about their credentials and capabilities, will be the first considered."

Mr. Redmond's firm is working with 10 people who had been general counsels at various corporations.

One of those is Jack Friedman of Princeton, N.J., who lost his job a year ago as a result of a merger at a satellite-communications company. Since then, he's been looking for a senior-level job at a communications, Web, or media company. "It's been very difficult. The jobs just haven't been there," he says.

Mr. Friedman says he's trying to be patient and not to take anything personally. "It's like being in sales: You have to go through a lot of rejection," he says. "You have to view it as an opportunity to turn a 'no' into a 'yes.' "

Sims-Bowles is trying to remain positive as well. "I am ready to roll up my sleeves and do whatever," she says. "I would like to work for the rest of my life."


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