No good news for the long-term unemployed

By Felix Salmon
January 7, 2011
jobs report turns recent history on its head.

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The December jobs report turns recent history on its head. We’ve been used to healthy increases in employment making no dent in the unemployment rate, but this time a mediocre jobs figure—just 103,000 new jobs were created—coincides with a gratifyingly large fall in unemployment, to 9.4% from 9.8%. For those keeping track at home, that’s employment up by 103,000 and unemployment down by a whopping 556,000.

There’s no doubt that the headline payrolls number is a disappointment. The economy just doesn’t seem to be creating jobs: we need to see 150,000 new jobs a month just to keep pace with population growth. But is there some good news, at least, on the unemployment front?

I’m not sure. While unemployment is down from both December 2009 and December 2010, it’s down only for those who have been out of work for less than 26 weeks. The ranks of the long-term unemployed are still rising:

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Meanwhile, the numbers of “discouraged” people continue to rise very fast indeed: these are the people who’d love a job but have given up looking for one and therefore don’t count as unemployed.

Among the marginally attached, there were 1.3 million discouraged workers in December, an increase of 389,000 from December 2009. Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them.

The headline unemployment rate is important, and it’s great that it’s coming down. But if you’ve been out of work a long time, there’s little hope in these figures for you.

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