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December 2010

Duration of unemployment in States, 2007-09

Sally L. Anderson

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes statistics on the duration of unemployment at the national level, derived from the Current Population Survey (CPS), on a monthly basis. Unemployed persons at the State level also can be classified by duration. In this article, which utilizes CPS data at the State level, those jobless for a period of less than 5 weeks are referred to as short-term unemployed, while those jobless for 15 weeks or more are referred to as long-term unemployed. Duration of unemployment measures are affected by economic cycles. In a strong economy, the largest share of the unemployed is generally found in the short-term category. The unemployed then would consist largely of the frictionally unemployed—those who are jobless for short periods as they are changing jobs. Increases in the number of short-term unemployed can indicate a weakening economy. If the economy continues to deteriorate over an extended period of time, and people continue to struggle to find jobs, the distribution of unemployment by duration will begin to shift from short term to medium term and then finally to the long-term category. Recently, CPS annual average estimates for 2007–09 were tabulated for all States and the District of Columbia for the same unemployment duration categories that are published at the national level. The estimation procedure used for the subnational sample-based CPS data allows for the development of statistics on economic characteristics of the labor force, such as duration of unemployment, based on specific responses to the survey questionnaire.3 In contrast, the official statewide unemployment estimates from the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program are model-based measures and are designed to produce reliable total employment and unemployment estimates. Further breakdowns of LAUS data by economic or demographic characteristics are not available.

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