It is still hard — illog­i­cally hard — for people like Johnson to get hired. There’s no evi­dence that spending months unem­ployed actu­ally dam­ages a worker’s future job per­for­mance. So, researchers won­dered, as the labor market began to improve, why were so many people still out of work for so long?

The answer, they found, is psy­cho­log­ical bias. Social stigmas stand between jobs and the job­less. Employers assume a frag­mented work his­tory indi­cates incom­pe­tence, according to a recent Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­fornia Santa Bar­bara study. Last year, a North­eastern Uni­ver­sity team sent out thou­sands of fake resumes fea­turing six-​​month employ­ment gaps to gauge employer response; they were rou­tinely ignored.

Mean­while, repeat­edly rejected job seekers fear their own value is dimin­ishing, which can affect inter­view per­for­mance and eager­ness to keep trying. The problem com­pounds. The cycle continues.

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