Job search: One year and counting...

January 4, 2014: 4:58 PM ET
lena rouse longterm unemployment
Lena Rouse of Columbus, Ohio, was unemployed all year last year, and still can't find a job, despite her qualifications.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Lena Rouse has merely one resolution for 2014: Finally get a job.

It's a goal that was out of reach in 2013, despite her best efforts. After she was laid off from an IT analysis job at a regional bank, Rouse was unemployed all year long.

What's the problem? It certainly wasn't a lack of skills. She has two master's degrees (one in business and another in IT, from DeVry's Keller Graduate School of Management) and about 22 years of work experience.

"Hiring managers tell me I'm overqualified," she said.

It also wasn't a lack of trying. She sent out hundreds of job applications, and even told recruiters she would be willing to work for less than her previous salary.

And it wasn't the location either. Rouse lives in Columbus, Ohio -- the largest city in the state, home of five Fortune 500 companies, and one of few Midwestern cities which has gained back just about all the jobs it lost in the recession, according to the Labor Department.

Related: Help! My unemployment benefits just expired

Rouse is far from alone.

About 5.5 million Americans looked for jobs in 2012, but didn't work at all that year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 2013 data won't be available until later this year, but it's safe to say the numbers remain elevated, even as the job market improves gradually.

Will 2014 finally be the year that the long-term unemployed get back to work?

The job market seems to be gaining momentum, and economists hope the long-term unemployed won't be left out in the cold. So far, the signs aren't very encouraging though.

In December, job growth continued at a solid pace, but the number of people who've been unemployed for more than six months simultaneously increased. It appeared that most of the jobs had gone to those who had been unemployed for shorter periods of time.

"I've heard from recruiters at larger companies, and they will absolutely tell you they don't like to hire long-term unemployed people," Rouse said. "They think our skills are less sharp."

As of December, 37% of the unemployed had been so for at least six months.

The good news is, Rouse is starting to sense a turning point in the job market. After almost nine months with no calls, she started getting interviews in the last three months of the year.

"At first, I couldn't have paid anyone to read my résumé," she said. "Now I have a lot of calls, a lot of interviews. I've also been working with multiple staffing agencies."

How to get a new job in 2014

Still, a job cannot come fast enough. The long-term unemployment problem lingers just as Congress failed to extend its emergency federal unemployment benefits. As a result, 1.3 million Americans suddenly stopped receiving their benefits.

Rouse received her last check this week. After a year without a job, she's depleted much of her 401(k) and even sold some of her jewelry.

"Now I'm at that point where I'm waiting to hear back. If I don't get one of those two jobs I just applied for, I'm thinking I'll probably have to move in with my father," she said.

"Just because someone cannot find a job for a long period of time, doesn't mean there's something wrong with the worker -- there really are a lot of good qualified people looking for work."

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Lena Rouse received her master's degrees from DeVry's Keller Graduate School of Management.

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