By now, most people realize that the labor market's current problem isn't just unemployment -- it's long-term unemployment. As of June, 6.3 million Americans had been unemployed for at least 27 weeks. That number is up from just 1.1 million four years earlier. And this doesn't even include discouraged Americans who dropped out of the labor market. To make matters worse: the longer a person is unemployed, the harder it is to find work.
This point is clear from Bureau of Labor Statistics data compiled by Congress' Joint Economic Committee. Here's a chart the committee included in a new report (.pdf) on long-term unemployment:
The longer a person is unemployed, the lower the chances that they've found a job. Tragically, just 8.7% of Americans unemployed for at least 53 weeks got work. That's as alarming a statistic as I've seen about the current labor market turmoil.
According to the JEC's report, Americans who dropped out of the labor force in 2010 did so after 20 weeks of searching for a new job, on average. Prior to the recession, Americans typically spent 8.5 weeks searching for work before giving up. So interestingly, Americans are actually exercising more patience and determination than usual -- in a historically bad job market. This point helps to refute those who believe that many unemployed Americans just aren't looking hard enough for work. In fact, they're looking harder than usual before giving up.