Copyright ©2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


And the news of U.S. credit downgrade overtook another important economic story yesterday, the monthly jobless numbers. Only 117,000 jobs were created in July. That's barely enough to make a dent in the unemployment rate. Often overlooked in the monthly job figures are the longer-term employment trends in the United States. A number of people who are long-term unemployed remains unchanged, more than six million.

The same with the number of discouraged workers as they're called. Those are people not looking for work because they believe there are no jobs. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.

SONARI GLINTON: To understand the unemployment rate, we need to understand the math behind the numbers.

LINDA BARRINGTON: I'm Linda Barrington, a labor economist with the Institute for Compensation Studies at Cornell University.

GLINTON: Professor Barrington is going to help us out. We'll start with fractions. The unemployment number is a fraction. The top number is the numerator, and in this case...

BARRINGTON: Is the number of people who are looking for a job and don't have one.

GLINTON: Then you take that number and divide by the denominator. The number on the bottom...

BARRINGTON: Is everybody who is working or wants to be working.

GLINTON: That's where we get the percentage of people who are unemployed, which in July was 9.1 percent - almost 14 million people. But that's not the whole picture. A lot of people get left out.

BARRINGTON: People who don't have any interest in working or the people who have given up because they've looked long enough and they don't expect they're going to get a job, so they just stop.


JAN WALSWORTH: I know in my gut that finding a full-time job with benefits, for me, the chances are slim to none.

GLINTON: Jan Walsworth turns 60 next week. She's about to become one of those six million people who are long-term unemployed. She spent 26 years as a homemaker and minister's wife. Now a divorced grandmother, she lives on a very small pension she got in the divorce. Walsworth was laid off in February from her job in customer service. If you called her up with a computer problem she could've helped you out.

WALSWORTH: The thing that maybe has made this all the harder is the fact that that job fulfilled everything that I liked to do. I was helping people, a lot of the people that called were older, more my age. I was extremely successful. They could tell by my voice I wasn't some 20-year-old with that impatience.

GLINTON: I met up with Walsworth at a restaurant near the Interstate in Jackson, Michigan. She says she hasn't had any serious responses to her job search and not having work has made her lonely and isolated.

WALSWORTH: I miss talking to people. I go days sometimes and don't talk to anybody. I want to work again, but I have no real hope of ever doing so in a meaningful - in a job that's meaningful to me.

GLINTON: Finding meaningful work or work that's comparable to what she used to have.

WALSWORTH: So is it hopeless?

GLINTON: That's a question labor economist Linda Barrington says the long-term unemployed have to be asking.

BARRINGTON: I think for some people, there is a ratcheting-down that's going to have to take place. That may mean taking a pay cut; it may mean going back to school, and these are really difficult decisions.

GLINTON: Barrington says it's not hopeless for the unemployed; they just have to hope for something different.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News.


SIMON: You're listening to NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: