It means that even as the economy strengthens, more Americans could face years out of work. Already, the percentage of the labor force unemployed for six months or longer is 4.3 percent. That’s the highest rate on records dating to 1948.

Behind the trend are the cutbacks businesses made in the recession to make up for a loss of customers. To sustain earnings, they became more productive: They found ways to produce the same level of goods or services with fewer workers. Automation, global competition and technological efficiencies helped solidify the trend.

Diminished home equity and investment accounts have made shoppers more cautious, too. And their frugality could endure well into the recovery. That’s why fewer retail workers, among others, will likely be needed.