Long-term unemployment affects nearly 30% of jobless Americans

Job seekers wait in line during a job fair in Portland, Ore., in April.
(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

Once unemployed, more Americans are staying that way than before the recession, with 29.5% of jobless Americans now out of work for more than a year.

In the first quarter of the year, 3.9 million of the nearly 13.3 million unemployed workers in the country had been jobless for all or most of 2011. That’s more people than live in Oregon, according to the Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative.

Long-term unemployment is less of a problem now than at its peak in the third quarter of last year, when 31.8% of jobless Americans were affected. But the current rate is still more than triple the 9.5% rate from the beginning of the recession.

“The longer workers remain unemployed, the more likely they may lose skills and professional contacts, making workforce reentry even more challenging,” researchers wrote in the Pew report. “Skill erosion may lead to lower future income for individuals and, for the economy as a whole, lower productivity and lost output.”

Older workers were more affected than most, with nearly 44% of former employees older than age 55 out of work for longer than a year. Just 21.4% of workers between ages 20 and 24 were in the same boat.


But long-term unemployment is a concern for job seekers of all education levels. It’s a reality for more than 22% of unemployed workers in every industry except for mining and agriculture. For those in the information and financial-activities sectors, the rate is even higher.

To help keep those workers afloat, government spending on unemployment benefits is expected to reach $99 billion for the fiscal 2012 year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. More than half will go to emergency and extended payments.


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