The odds you’ll join the ranks of the long-term unemployed

Now let’s get to those results. As you can see below, the odds of becoming long-term unemployed have closely tracked the business cycle. In the late 1990s, when, believe it or not, unemployment dipped below 4 percent, there was a less than a 5 percent chance that an unemployed person would still be six months later. Those odds shot up to 15 percent after the tech bubble burst, and more or less stayed there during the jobless recovery into 2003. The housing bubble finally pushed unemployment, and with it the probability of becoming long-term unemployed, down—but neither got as low as they had been when we were partying like it was 1999.

Then the Great Recession happened. Unemployment went up slowly, then all at once after Lehmangeddon. But it wasn’t just the depth of the crisis that hurt so much. It was the length. And the lackluster recovery, too. Think about someone who lost their job in September 2008. The next six months were, to say the least, a tough time to find work—and if they hadn’t by then, their chances would have fallen even further as companies started to discriminate against them. That’s why people who lost their jobs in 2009, when unemployment peaked at 10 percent, had a 30 percent chance of ending up long-term unemployed. And those bleak odds have only slowly receded as unemployment has. Indeed, if you become unemployed today, you still have a higher chance of becoming long-term unemployed than you would have at the worst point of the tech bust.