Millions of Americans have been out of work for more than 6 months – these 2 charts break down who the long-term unemployed are

FILE PHOTO: People line up outside a Kentucky Career Center hoping to find assistance with their unemployment claim in Frankfort, Kentucky, U.S. June 18, 2020. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
People line up outside a Kentucky Career Center hoping to find assistance with their unemployment claim in Frankfort

  • About 3.9 million Americans were long-term unemployed, or out of work for at least 27 weeks, in December.
  • The National Women’s Law Center noted in a recent analysis that “many unemployed people have been out of work for most of the COVID-19 crisis.”
  • Among demographic groups reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Hispanic or Latino men and women had the largest differences in long-term unemployment along gender lines.
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In December 2020, the US lost 140,000 nonfarm payroll jobs. But in addition to that surprise decline, there’s an important demographic lingering in the story of American unemployment: those who have already been unemployed for months.

The following chart highlights the rise in the number of Americans who are long-term unemployed, defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as being unemployed and looking for work for at least 27 weeks. It is important to note that this data is not seasonally adjusted:

In April, when the pandemic resulted in a major climb in the level of unemployment, there were around 929,000 long-term unemployed Americans, but that number now stands at nearly 3.9 million. That means over a third of unemployed Americans have been out of work for at least 27 weeks. 

A closer look at who was considered long-term unemployed in December

It is possible to look at who makes up the nearly 4 million people who are long-term unemployed. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a breakdown of who is unemployed and for how long have they been out of work. A closer look at the data shows how long-term unemployment varies on gender lines among four different racial and ethnic groups.

In almost all of the demographic groups below, there were more long-term unemployed workers than in any of the other unemployment duration intervals tracked by BLS. This is a reversal of what the duration of unemployment looked like at the same time last year. In the fourth quarter of 2019, most unemployed workers in these demographic groups were unemployed for fewer than 14 weeks.

The following chart highlights the share of men and women who are at least 16 years old that have been unemployed for at least 27 weeks, by race and ethnicity. 

Black men and women had similar shares of long-term unemployment with 41.8% for men and 40.8% for women. On the other hand, Hispanic or Latino men and women had the largest percentage point differences between the sexes, where the rates were 30.3% for men and 38.3% for women. 

Read more: PPP is now open for all applicants, and experts say the guidance is clearer this time around

“December’s jobs data also indicates that many unemployed people have been out of work for most of the COVID-19 crisis. Among adult women ages 20 and over who were unemployed last month, about 2 in 5 (39.9%) had been out of work for 6 months or longer,” the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) wrote in an analysis of the most recent employment situation.

President Joe Biden announced a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan which may provide some financial support for the millions who are unemployed. The package, called the “American Rescue Plan,” includes $400 in weekly federal unemployment benefits through September as well as federal unemployment programs for gig workers, per Insider’s Joseph Zeballos-Roig reporting.

And President Biden is also planning a new wave of executive actions, with many aimed at getting immediate help to workers and those suffering the effects of unemployment. Those actions will address everything from hunger to allowing workers to refuse employment that could jeopardize their health while still receiving unemployment benefits.

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