Unemployed for six months or more – and still looking for a job
The number of long-term unemployed – 6.1 million – is the most since the US started keeping track in 1948. Here is a look at some of these people as they search for a job.
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"Longer term, one of the impacts of structural unemployment is that many of these workers are losing skills, which makes them much less marketable and makes it much tougher to get back," Mr. Zandi says.Skip to next paragraph
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Yet compared with the Great Depression, today's unemployment problem seems mild. By the winter of 1933, an estimated 12 million to 14 million people, or 25 percent of the workforce, were unemployed. Six years later, the unemployment rate was estimated at 17 percent.
"My sense is that most people were unemployed for the long term," says David Kyvig, distinguished research professor at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb and an expert on the Depression. "Everyone was desperate to hold on to a job, so no one was changing jobs."
One survey, Professor Kyvig says, showed that 35 percent of the population under age 25 was unemployed in 1931. That was before the 1935 Social Security Act, which required states to pay unemployment compensation to those who qualified.
Extension of unemployment benefits
Since July 2008, Congress has voted four times to extend unemployment-benefits programs, so that some without jobs can receive additional weeks of help. Congress passed the most recent extension last month. It also continued a $25 weekly supplement, available to all 10.8 million benefit recipients.
According to an analysis by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), the December extension allowed some 2.3 million to continue receiving unemployment benefits. It is scheduled to expire in February.
"Ideally, we would like to see these benefits continued through the end of the year," says Christine Owens, executive director of NELP in Washington. "Otherwise, we will again be in a situation where millions of unemployed workers would reach the end of their benefits and would just fall off a cliff."
For many of the long-term unemployed, the extension of benefits is crucial. "They are keeping my family afloat," says Sims-Bowles in Pasadena. "The $425 a week that I'm getting basically pays for food and gas and incidentals. I feel very blessed to have anything."
Those out of work for a long time have learned to scrimp. In Framingham, Mass., discretionary income is very limited for Kate Corrigan, who was laid off nine months ago from a recruiting job in the high-tech sector. "You don't go out to dinner, you don't take a vacation, you are very watchful of everything you do," Ms. Corrigan says.
When a job is advertised, the competition is fierce. Nationally, there are 6.3 job seekers for every job opening, NELP estimates.