This Is What the Long-Term Unemployed Look Like

Americans who've been out of work for half a year or more look different than the newly unemployed. They're older, slightly better educated, and less likely to be white.

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Americans who've been out of work for half a year or more look different than the newly unemployed. They're older, slightly better educated, and less likely to be white.

It's perhaps a different image of the unemployed than members of Congress might be expecting. Whether or not this group sees a renewal of unemployment benefits — cut off late last month — has become the first contentious issue of the new congressional session. On Monday evening, the Senate will vote on a proposal to extend them for another three months, but, according to NBC News, that extension is likely to fail.

Last year, Josh Mitchell of the Urban Institute decided to find out who the long-term unemployed actually are, compiling data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and producing a short report outlining his findings. The Wire spoke with Mitchell by phone on Monday, primarily to find out if the data, produced last summer, provided an accurate picture of the population that Congress is considering.

"The demographic profile is relatively stable over time," Mitchell said, suggesting that his findings likely still provide a good look at the population of long-term unemployed — 4.1 million people in the country last November. (An estimated 1.3 million were affected by the December cuts, and Mitchell wasn't able to say if they matched the same demographic breakdown as the overall pool.)

For the most part, the long-term unemployed look like the larger pool of unemployed Americans, both those newly out of work and those who've become discouraged by the job market, temporarily or permanently dropping out of the labor pool. But they look more like the population of employed Americans than do the newly unemployed.

They are older than the newly unemployed.

This chart (like those that follow) compares four populations: the long-term unemployed (people out of work 27 weeks or more), the newly unemployed (those unemployed for fewer weeks), those who've dropped out of the labor pool, and those with work. In this chart, the darker bars indicate older people.

The make-up of the long-term unemployed looks somewhat more like the population of employed people than other unemployed groups. A full one-fifth of the population is between 46 and 55 years old. Half as many long-term jobless people are under the age of 26 as among the newly unemployed. Which is part of the reason that they're harder to employ: older workers tend to have higher salaries when they lose their jobs.

Notice that the percentage of discouraged workers that is aged 56 to 65 (the darkest bar) is higher than for the long-term unemployed. Often, as North Carolina saw when it ended insurance for the long-term unemployed, older workers will leave the labor force.

They are more likely to be African-American.

While nearly two-thirds of the employed population is white, according to Mitchell, just under half of the population of the long-term unemployed are not. Particularly, the long term unemployed are about 50 percent more likely to be black than a member of the newly unemployed.

They are slightly better educated.

Compared to the newly unemployed group, the long-term unemployed are more likely to have a high school education — 64 percent of the long-term unemployed graduated from high school but not college, compared to 60 percent for the newly unemployed.

What's stark about this chart, though, is how the populations of the unemployed compare to that of the employed. Ninety-one percent of the employed have at least a high school education. One of the reasons that older people might be more likely to drop out of the workforce is that that, as a Senate report noted last spring, "workers in this age group are less likely to pursue additional job training and education." A 55-year-old isn't as likely to go get the college degree that would open more doors.

The long-term unemployed still constitute well over a third of the unemployed population in America. They're people who are less likely to be able to reenter the workforce — obviously — in part because they tend to be the sorts of workers that cost employers more money. But not, at this point, the United States government.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.