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October 2010, Vol. 133, No. 10
The composition of the unemployed and long-term unemployed in tough labor markets
Sylvia Allegretto and Devon Lynch
Sylvia Allegretto is an economist at the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley. Email: email@example.com. Devon Lynch is an assistant professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The share of unemployment accounted for by long-term unemployment has risen higher following the 2007–09 recession than following any other recent recession, and the makeup of the labor force, the unemployed, and the long-term unemployed has changed substantially since 1983.
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The most widely tracked and discussed statistic from the Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly release of The Employment Situation is the unemployment rate—especially during economic downturns. Another measure that has garnered much attention because of the severity of the recent recession has been the incidence of long-term unemployment (LTU). The share of unemployment accounted for by “long-termers”—those out of work for at least 27 weeks—is indicative of the capacity of the economy to get people back to work. The recession that began in 2007 led to the highest unemployment rates in almost three decades, along with record-breaking rates of longterm unemployment. Almost 3 years after the onset of the recession, unemployment remains high, at 9.6 percent, and more than two fifths (41.7 percent) of unemployed workers are long-termers.1
As informative as these aggregate statistics are, in the absence of other data, they mask much of the nuanced nature of those who make up the ranks of the unemployed—especially because the U.S. workforce has changed considerably over the last three decades. In order to craft effective government policy and create targeted safety nets, it is important to identify those who are disproportionally affected by economic downturns and the demographic characteristics of those who experience long bouts of unemployment. This article documents changes in the demographic makeup of the labor force, the unemployed, and the long-term unemployed over recent recessions.
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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: The authors graciously thank Jin Dai for data assistance and Jay Liao and Maria Carolina Tomás for research assistance. In addition, the authors are grateful for generous support from the Open Society Institute’s Campaign for Black Male Achievement.
1 As of September 2010.
Current Employment Statistics
Current Population Survey
U.S. labor market in 2008: economy in recession.—Mar. 2009.
Labor force and unemployment: three generations of change, The.—Jun. 2004.
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