The long-term unemployed: Out of work and out of luck

Dig deeper into the numbers and a grim picture emerges: Few of the long-term unemployed are finding jobs. Even fewer are finding steady work. Most worryingly, their prospects aren’t improving along with the broader economy, even in parts of the country where the recovery is strongest.

The long-term unemployed face major hurdles in the best of times. In the five years leading up to the 2007 recession, when the housing market was booming and the economy was generally strong, only about 15 percent of the long-term unemployed found jobs in any given month, half the rate of the shorter-term unemployed.

Economists aren’t sure why being out of work for more than six months makes finding a new job so much harder. By most measures — sex, race, education and occupation — the long-term jobless look a lot like the short-term unemployed, and similar in most respects to the employed, too.1 The evidence suggests that they’re mostly unlucky: They lost their jobs in the midst of a terrible economy, when finding a new job quickly was particularly difficult. Once they cross the six-month threshold, their odds of finding a job drop off dramatically.