Unemployment trends: Long term rates persist

Although the national unemployment rate has dropped a full percentage point from its peak of 10.1 percent in October 2009, improvement has been slow and a particularly troubling measure – long-term unemployment – is at record highs. The Economist reports that workers are getting off the unemployment rolls and into a job more slowly than at any time since 1948. And, for the first time in decades, jobless workers are now more likely to drop out of the labor force entirely than to get a job.  

Throughout the economic downturn, the number of long-term unemployed, defined as those unemployed for 27 weeks or more, has skyrocketed.  In September, the number of long-term unemployed workers stood at 6.2 million, or almost half (44.6 percent) of all those unemployed. According to the Wall Street Journal, even when the unemployment rate exceeded 10% for many months in the early 1980’s, only around one in four of the unemployed were out of work for a similar length of time.

Percent Distribution of Unemployment Duration, September 2011

Data Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics