24% of unemployed workers have been jobless for over a year

The Inn of Rosslyn, which is permanently closed in Arlington, Virginia on February 5, 2021 due to the pressure of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Liu Jie / Xinhua via Getty Images


Overall, these long-term unemployed made up 24% of the total of 9.9 million unemployed last month, according to the bureau. (The data are without seasonal adjustments.)

“I find this figure pretty breathtaking, that almost a quarter of the unemployed have been unemployed for over a year,” said Heidi Shierholz, director of politics at the Institute for Economic Policy and former chief economist at the Ministry of Labor from 2014 to 2017.

“It really shows that while the economy is recovering, you have a lot of the same people who were unemployed during this whole damn thing,” she added.

The statistics provide the first glimpse into unemployment a year after officials began issuing lockdown orders to contain the coronavirus and millions of Americans started applying for unemployment benefits.

And that figure is likely to be an undercount, as the department doesn’t account for certain workers, such as those who have left the workforce entirely due to health risks or childcare responsibilities. And the percentage could rise next month as the current numbers only offer a snapshot until the middle of last month, which doesn’t quite coincide with the flood of jobless claims towards the end of March and until April 2020.

The office does not break down these long-term unemployment figures by industry.

But it is likely that workers in this group are over-represented in the hardest-hit industries like leisure and hospitality, Shierholz said. More than 3 million jobs in this sector have not yet returned – that is more than a third of the total.

Long-term unemployment

Long-term unemployment has risen steadily during the health crisis and is near the peak of the Great Recession.

Economists consider workers to be long-term unemployed after at least six months without work.

From a financial perspective, this is a particularly dangerous time for households. Finding a new job becomes more difficult, workers’ long-term earnings potential is impaired, and the likelihood of losing a job if they find one later increases.

The federal government has stepped in to offer income support by extending and increasing weekly unemployment benefits. The US $ 1.9 trillion bailout plan signed by President Joe Biden last month extends aid through Labor Day and offers a weekly $ 300 supplement to government benefits.

Unemployment is falling and long-term unemployment is rising.

Heidi Shierholz

Director of Politics at the Institute for Economic Policy

However, despite broader eligibility criteria during the pandemic, not all workers are eligible for assistance.

More than 4 million Americans were unemployed for six months or more in March – or 43.4% of all unemployed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday.

This is close to the record high of 45.5% after the great recession.

The proportion is growing despite the fact that the US unemployment rate fell to 6% in March. The US created 916,000 jobs, most of them since the summer.

In recessions, unemployment and long-term unemployment generally move up and down together, Shierholz said.

“It’s not going on here,” she said. “Right now they are going in a completely opposite direction – unemployment is falling and long-term unemployment is rising.”

The number of Americans who have been unemployed for at least a year is still about half what it was after the Great Recession.

In April 2010, more than 4.6 million people had been unemployed for at least 52 weeks, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It took another 20 months for that number to drop below the 4 million mark.

However, given the pace of vaccination and the trend towards economic recovery, long-term unemployment is unlikely to continue at the same rate this time around.

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