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How Did Workers with a History of Long-Term Unemployment Fare during the COVID Recession? Evidence From Applicants To The Ready To Work Partnership Grant Program (Issue Brief)

Release Date

Dec 22, 2022

Publication Author(s)

  • Abt Associates
  • Jacob Klerman
  • Jane Herr
  • Karin Martinson

Research Methodology

  • Qualitative Analysis


  • Adult
  • Dislocated Worker
  • Employers

States & Territories

  • California
  • Maryland
  • New York
  • Oregon


In 2014 the Employment and Training Administration awarded four-year grants totaling $170 million to 24 grantees for the Ready to Work Partnership (RTW) Grant Program. RTW partnerships of workforce agencies, training providers, employers, and other local organizations established programs to prepare workers for employment, particularly in occupations and industries being filled by foreign workers through the H-1B visa program. Grant funds were used to provide a range of customized services to the long-term unemployed. In addition to the impact evaluation, the study produced several brief reports, including an examination of the effect of the COVD-19 pandemic on the long-term unemployed.

During 2021 the economy largely recovered, and the unemployment rate returned nearly to levels that preceded the COVID-19 pandemic. However, workers’ employment experiences during the pandemic and its corresponding economic shutdown varied depending on participant characteristics. This brief explores the employment and earnings of applicants to the RTW Partnership Grant program before and during the COVID pandemic. When the RTW program began offering services in 2015, it targeted workers who lost their jobs during or after the 2007-2009 recession, remained long-term unemployed or underemployed, and yet had sufficient education and experience to become re-employed in higher-paying middle- or high-skill jobs. By 2019, before the pandemic emerged, most of these workers had returned to employment at higher earnings than they experienced before they applied to the RTW program.

This study found that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a sample of previously long-term unemployed workers who were relatively older and educated experienced the following:

  • Employment fell by 10 percentage points and never fully recovered through late 2021. Although earnings fell in mid-2020, earnings began rising again by late 2020.
  • Rising Unemployment Insurance benefits offset falling earnings, such that the sum of earnings and benefits remained stable in 2020.
  • Changes in employment between 2019 and 2021 did not vary by education level, race and ethnicity, or gender.
  • Changes in earnings between 2019 and 2021 did not vary by race and ethnicity or gender, but workers without a bachelor’s degree had a substantially larger decrease in earnings in 2020 and a smaller increase in earnings in 2021.

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