Who are the long-term unemployed?

at 12:25 PM ET, 05/06/2012

Right now, nearly 30 percent of all unemployed Americans have been out of work for more than a year. All told, that’s 3.9 million workers, slightly more than the number of people who live in Oregon.

But who are the long-term unemployed, exactly? The Pew Charitable Trust has a new report (pdf) out about these Americans, and some of the stats are surprising. For one, long-term unemployment is an equal risk for all unemployed workers, regardless of education level. Here’s a chart showing this:

(Pew Charitable Trust)
The chart’s a bit confusing, but basically, the red bar shows the likelihood of a worker in each education category becoming unemployed in the first place. The blue bar shows how likely it is that a worker stays unemployed for a year or more once he loses his job.

And the chart shows something unexpected: A worker with a PhD is less likely to become unemployed in the first place than a worker who never finished high school. But, once those workers lose their jobs, they both have a roughly equal chance of being out of work for more than a year. In fact, an unemployed worker with a PhD is slightly more likely to have trouble finding work again.

The Pew report also breaks this down by age. In the current recession, older workers are less likely than younger workers to become unemployed in the first place. But, once an older worker loses his job, he’s far, far more likely to enter the ranks of the long-term unemployed than the younger worker is.

(Pew Charitable Trust)
There’s plenty of reason to worry about the long-term unemployed. Plenty of evidence suggests that when a person stays unemployed for seven months or more, it becomes harder and harder for him or her to ever return to the workforce.

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