August 11, 2022

Economix: Average Length of Unemployment at All-Time High

The average unemployed person in America has been looking for work for 39.7 weeks, or more than nine months. That is the longest average unemployment spell since the Labor Department started keeping track in 1948:

DESCRIPTIONSource: Bureau of Labor Statistics Note: Pink line on the right side of the graph shows what the numbers would be if calculated under the Labor Department’s older methodology for average unemployment duration.

Now, the Labor Department changed the way it calculates this number in January. But even under the old methodology (shown in the teeny pink line at the far right of the chart), workers still had the longest average spells of unemployment on record this May.

The growing length of joblessness is particularly worrisome because it tends to be self-perpetuating. The longer a person is unemployed, the less employable he or she becomes because of factors like stigma and skill deterioration. That means that the longer it takes to get Americans back to work, the further behind they will fall.

The social safety net for these workers is also fraying. Many of the long-term unemployed — who now constitute about 45 percent of all unemployed workers — have already had their jobless benefits run out. In some cases states (like Arizona) have neglected to make the legislative changes necessary to receive additional jobless benefits paid for with federal money.

To add insult to injury, many unemployed people who have retrained for new careers have so far racked up student loan debts but not jobs.

These long-term unemployed are disproportionately composed of older workers — who, compared to younger workers, are less likely to lose their jobs, but more likely to have trouble finding re-employment if they are laid off. Given how far behind these workers have already fallen, it may turn out that many of these Americans will never work again.

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