Back to previous page


How long-term unemployment is wiping out the middle class

By ,

At the moment, there are roughly 13.9 million unemployed workers in the United States. Of those, 42.4 percent of them have been out of work for more than six months — a new postwar record for the United States. We should be especially worried about this group of long-term unemployed workers, because research shows that the longer they go jobless, the more likely it is that they’ll lose their skills, that companies will refuse to hire them, and that they’ll drop out of the workforce entirely. And that, in turn, can have deeper implications for the country as a whole.

LM Otero/AP

Job seekers at a career expo in Las Colinas, Texas.

In the National Journal this month, Michael Hirsh has an important in-depth look at the broader impact of the long-term unemployed, putting the current disaster in historical context. “What Bernanke and others rarely mention, though, is that this trend has been building for at least three decades,” he notes. “The share of left-behinds has generally ratched up with every economic downturn since the early 1980s.” We’ve reached the point where long-term unemployment is now at an all-time high.

Yet very few policymakers have actually noticed. “Washington, dominated by a free-market consensus ever since President Reagan’s era, has ignored that 30-year pattern,” writes Hirsh. “Partly as a result, reams of data show that America’s middle class has been shrinking.”Go read his piece for some striking examples of towns around the country that have been hollowed out as a result of pervasive long-term unemployment.

© The Washington Post Company