What 27 Weeks of Unemployment Does to the American Worker

Courtesy of The Atlantic. By GILLIAN B. WHITE

Though the economy is improving, a third of those still looking for work have been jobless for more than six months.

Even if February was 28 days of awful weather for most of the country, it was, all in all, a solid month for employment figures, with 295,000 new jobs added to the economy, and the closely watched unemployment rate slipping further, to 5.5 percent.

The February jobs report is the latest in a series that demonstrates that the job market in the U.S. is slowly but surely improving. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, someone who is currently unemployed would need, on average, just over three months (about 13.1 weeks) to find work again. In 2010, it would’ve around 25.2 weeks, or almost half a year for the average American to get back into the job market, according to Pew Research.

To be certain, the recovery has provided some significant progress in the realm of overall unemployment—and economists say that much of that improvement has helped to alleviate the share of workers who are left jobless for extended periods of time. Between 2010 and 2014 about two-thirds of the overall unemployment decline went to reductions in long-term unemployment (characterized as those who’ve been out of work for 27 weeks or more, but are still searching), according to data from the Federal Reserve.

So where are we now in terms of long-term unemployment? Before the Great Recession, the share of the unemployed who’d been out of work for 27 weeks or more mostly hovered between 10 to 20 percent, according to BLS data. But during the most recent recession long-term unemployment reached rates as high as 45 percent in 2010, according to Fed data. Those are the highest levels seen since the Great Depression.

In February, about 31.1 percent of unemployed Americans had been out of work for 27 weeks or more. While that’s better, it’s still well above normal levels, and leaves about 2.7 million people without work. And assessments of the long-term unemployed don’t even count the much-talked about population who have been out of work for so long that they’ve given up on finding a new gig.

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