When the wolf comes to the door the first few times, most people can find ways to keep him at bay, falling back on savings or cutting back on spending in a household. But one of the lessons of the recent recession in American life is that our system isn’t particularly well-suited to the problems of those without jobs for years, not just months.

According to a report from Congress’ Joint Economic Committee, about 42 percent of the nation’s 14.1 million unemployed have been out of work for at least six months, and nearly one in three has been jobless more than a year.

Compared with Europeans’ social safety net, that of the United States is thinner, particularly when it comes to health care, which is still largely tied to jobs in this country. Unemployment benefits — $247 a week in Louisiana — last only so long. Many workers across the country have exhausted their allotment.

But there’s also a serious impact on workers’ skills over time, the report said. If too long out of work, you don’t just get out of the habit of rising early, but miss out on the emphasis on training and skill development that is part of the culture of many companies.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that those out of work are less likely to find a job the longer they are unemployed. Among those unemployed for longer than one year, only 8.7 percent were able to find work, according to recent 12-month statistics from the bureau.

That is in part a reflection of the reality that many people in this recession without work are people without college degrees or even high school diplomas.

And, of course, the reality is that one becomes among the long-term unemployed one day at a time.

One measure of the severity of the job problem, even in an officially expanding economy, is that about 16 percent of the labor force is either working part time but seeking full-time work, or has given up for the moment on seeking a full-time job.

“Scars on the labor force caused by a severe recession can cause a permanent rise in unemployment,” the congressional report said. “Investing in workforce training programs can help unemployed workers improve their job prospects.”

Many people in the category of the long-term unemployed have the attitude toward work that employers want, but not the skills that companies need — and bridging that gap is a practical approach to the challenges of today’s economy.