Jobs

The Job Market Is Frozen For Everyone

The number of jobs in America grew by 103,000 last month, according to this morning's big jobs report. That's not as bad as economists were predicting, but it's not good.

This kind of job creation is enough to keep up with population growth, but not enough to drive down the unemployment rate, which has been just over 9 percent for months now. The job market seems frozen in place.

The unemployment rate varies significantly among different demographic groups. But the trend over the past few years is basically the same for everyone, regardless of age, gender, or education. And the trend is grim.

Unemployment shot up in 2008 and 2009. Since then, with a few exceptions, it's barely budged — it's down a bit from it's peak, but still far higher than normal.

age unemployment
Jess Jiang/NPR/BLS data
Education unemployment
Jess Jiang/NPR/BLS data
Gender unemployment
Jess Jiang/NPR/BLS data

There is one jobs measure that has continued to change: average duration of unemployment. But that has gotten worse, not better.

Average number of weeks unemployed
Jess Jiang/NPR

As noted last month, this is a very worrying sign:

The longer people are unemployed, the less likely they are to find a new job.

This is partly due to the fact that the most employable people — those whose skills are in highest demand — get snapped up right away.

But there are also more insidious forces at work. As Ben Bernanke recently pointed out, the skills of unemployed workers erode, making it harder for them to find a new job. Employers may be wary of hiring someone who has been out of work for a long time. And after months of searching, the unemployed tend to spend less time looking for work. ...

One final, somewhat technical note: The extension of unemployment benefits — which typically expire after six months, but now can run for nearly two years — has probably played some role in driving up the long-term unemployment rate.

But several studies have found that this accounts for only a small part of the overall rise in long-term unemployment. (See this paper from the San Francisco Fed for more on the subject.)

For the most part, "people are simply flowing into unemployment and not finding jobs," Bart Hobijn, an economist at the San Francisco Fed, told me. "That's the overall weakness in the economy."

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