The Unemployment Crisis That Jobs Legislation Must Address

The national unemployment rate in March 2010 was 9.7 percent. However, that number alone does not capture the full extent of the nation’s unemployment crisis. These numbers and facts help paint a more complete picture and should guide the remedies the Obama administration and Congress prescribe to address the problem.

  • 5.2 percent. The percentage of jobs lost from the start of the recession through June 2009. That was the steepest decline in employment in six decades.
  • 26.4 million. The number of workers who are either unemployed or underemployed.
  • 16.9 percent. The percentage of workers who are either unemployed or underemployed.
  • 17 million. The number of jobs that need to be created to get the economy to the unemployment level (4.3 percent) that existed prior to the 2001 recession.

Today’s unemployment crisis continues to have a particularly devastating impact on:

  • Adults with only a high school diploma. They have more than twice the unemployment rate (10.8 percent) of adults with a bachelor’s degree (4.7 percent).
  • Young adults. Unemployment among workers between the ages of 20-24, already high before the recession, is almost 15 percent.
  • African Americans. Their unemployment rate is 16.5 percent. It’s particularly bad for African-American men: 19 percent. (White males, by contrast, are experiencing an unemployment rate of under 9 percent. Latino unemployment is 12.6 percent.)
    That race gap exists even for the well-educated: African Americans with college degrees have nearly twice the unemployment rate (8.2 percent) of their white counterparts.
  • Teen-agers. More than one in four teen-age job seekers are unemployed. But among African-American teens, that percentage exceeds one in three (41 percent), and it is almost one in three among Latino teens.

Long-term unemployment is doing serious harm to individuals and our economy. According to an April 2010 Pew Charitable Trusts report on long-term unemployment and an Economic Policy Institute jobs report:

  • More than 6.5 million workers have been unemployed for longer than six months. That’s 44.1 percent of all unemployed workers. (During the 1983 recession, that percentage was only 23 percent.)
  • About 3.4 million people—roughly equal to the population of the state of Connecticut—have been unemployed for more than a year. That’s a post-World War II record.
  • More than 31 weeks is now the average length of time it takes an unemployed worker to land a job.
  • Almost one-third of unemployed people who are 55 and over have been unemployed for more than a year.
  • Workers who are jobless for long periods of time have a tougher time finding a new job and typically end up in jobs that pay less than the job they lost. Workers lose skills when they are out of work for that long and employers tend to be hesitant to rehire them.