The good, bad, and persistently ugly news about the job market

By Ben Walsh
January 2, 2014

Reuters reports that the number of new claims for unemployment benefits fell for a second straight week. Data released by the Labor Department Thursday showed that for the week ending on December 28, 339,000 Americans filed for state unemployment insurance. That’s a drop of 2,000 from the previous week’s report.

Reuters’ Stephen Culp charts the trend in jobless claims since 2009, the average length of unemployment, the labor force participation rate:

As the number of of new and continuing unemployment claims has fallen since 2009, so has the labor force participation rate has fallen. Meanwhile, the average length of unemployment rose until mid-2011, and has remained steadily elevated since.

Together, these trends suggest that while unemployment is falling, long-term unemployment is still a very serious problem. The rising number of Americans dropping out of the workforce means that the unemployment rate itself is becoming a less instructive indicator of the strength of the job market.

And last week, around 1.3 million Americans lost  emergency federal unemployment benefits. These benefits are available to workers who are no longer eligible for state unemployment benefits, which generally expire after 26 weeks. As this Reuters chart shows, the average length of unemployment is now 37.2 weeks, suggesting that many Americans could face a gap of almost 11 weeks without benefits:

 

 

 

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