How Unemployment Has Dragged On, In Three Charts

Jul 6, 2012
Originally published on July 9, 2012 11:06 pm

Losing your job is rarely good. Not being able to find one for months can be disastrous for individuals, and bad for society as well. Yet during the recent recession and the current anemic recovery, more people in the U.S. have been unemployed for longer than at any time since 1948.

Of all Americans who were unemployed in June, almost half had been without a job for 27 weeks or longer. In other words, 5.4 million people have been jobless for more than half a year.

The government calls these the long-term unemployed. Experts say the longer workers are jobless, the more likely they are to lose valuable work skills. They also have a harder time re-entering the workforce than those who are jobless for shorter periods.

Sure enough, the data bear this out: As of June, the number of people unemployed for less than 27 weeks had declined by about 25 percent since it peaked in October 2009. But the ranks of the long-term unemployed have declined more slowly for the same period, by about 5 percent. In other words, as unemployment comes down, the long-term unemployed aren't benefiting as much.

The current recession and recovery is unusual for the sheer number of people unemployed for long periods. They haven't always made up such a large proportion of the unemployed, as shown in the chart below:

As a result, on average, people today are also unemployed for much longer than they have been since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started recording this data in 1948:

These figures reflect the most commonly cited measure of unemployment, excluding those who are working part time but want full-time work, and those who want a job but have given up looking.

Note: This blog post was updated to reflect the numbers of this morning's jobs report.

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