The American jobs machine smashed expectations last month, with nonfarm payrolls growing by 916,000 and headline unemployment falling to 6 percent. Our overall labor-force-participation rate increased, as did the prime-age participation rate, and total employment for January and February was revised upward by a combined 156,000 jobs.

These gains demonstrate how COVID-19 vaccinations and the easing of pandemic restrictions are strengthening America’s economic recovery. And yet, while the broader COVID economic crisis may be over, a less-visible crisis continues to afflict millions of Americans—the crisis of long-term unemployment.

As of March, a staggering 43.4 percent of the unemployed—more than 4.2 million people—had been jobless for 27 weeks or longer. That’s the highest level since 2011, and it’s frighteningly close to the highest level in recorded history (45.5 percent), witnessed in 2010. Prior to the Great Recession, the postwar peak was just 26 percent, in 1983.

The long-term unemployed face particularly steep challenges when trying to get a new job. Indeed, researchers from the U.S. Census Bureau and the University of Maryland have found that, “even after accounting for differences in their observed and unobserved characteristics, the longer-term unemployed experience substantially worse employment and earnings losses than the short term unemployed.”

Few people understand these dynamics better than UMass-Amherst sociologist Ofer Sharone, who has done pioneering research on the stigma that the long-term unemployed must overcome.

“My research over the past 15 years studying unemployment among white-collar American professionals shows that flawed understandings of long-term unemployment held by employers and former colleagues is one of the biggest barriers out-of-work people can face,” Sharone wrote recently in Harvard Business Review. “This widespread stigma leads to isolation, makes looking for a job discouraging, and undermines well-being.”

Sharone has emphasized that many of the long-term unemployed are highly skilled professionals with impressive credentials, who nevertheless find themselves out of work for extended periods of time.

“As both the Great Recession and Covid-19 have taught us, no matter where you got your degree, no matter how experienced and skilled you are, you are at risk of becoming trapped in long-term unemployment through no fault of your own,” he noted in his HBR piece. “Understanding the role of stigma in the job market is a crucial first step for policymakers and employers to make real our ideals of fairness and meritocracy, and for individuals trapped in LTU to recognize that they are not alone, that nothing is wrong with them, and that they can find strength and support by banding together with others.”

Read the whole piece here.