The epidemic of long-term unemployment, one of the most
pernicious and persistent challenges bedeviling the U.S. economy, is finally
showing signs of easing.
The long-term unemployed—those out of work more than six
months—made up 39.1% of all job seekers in December, according to the Labor
Department, the first time that figure has dropped below 40% in more than three
The problem is far from solved. Nearly 4.8 million Americans
have been out of work for more than six months, down from a peak of more than
6.5 million in 2010 but still a level without precedent since World War II.
The recent signs of progress mark a reversal from earlier in
the recovery, when long-term unemployment proved resistant to improvement
elsewhere in the labor market.
Total unemployment peaked in late 2009 and has dropped
relatively steadily since then, while the number of long-term unemployed
continued to rise into 2010 and then fell only slowly through much of 2011.
recently, however, unemployment has fallen more quickly among the long-term
jobless than among the broader population. In the past year, the number of
long-term unemployed workers has dropped by 830,000, accounting for nearly the
entire 843,000-person drop in overall joblessness.