There is no silver lining to the dark cloud that has enveloped America. A slight decline in the rate of job losses at the end of last year, coupled with a rise in the gross domestic product, gave hope that we were at the beginning of a sustained recovery from the Great Recession. The December jobs report has doused that hope.
Unemployment has graduated from being a difficulty, a headache, a setback, a worry. Now it is nothing less than a catastrophe. The true measure of it is that nearly a million Americans have become so demoralized that they are no longer even trying to find work. No fewer than 929,000 men and women who want a job haven’t looked in the past year. That is nearly 50 percent more than the number who felt it was a hopeless quest a year ago (642,000 in 2008). With 15.3 million out of work in the longest and deepest downturn in our economy since the Great Depression, the unemployment rate managed to hold at 10 percent in December only because of an extraordinary shrinkage in the labor force: Some 661,000 gave up their searches for work. (Job losses totaled 85,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ nonfarm payroll data; the bureau’s household survey indicated a loss of 589,000 jobs.)
Roughly 40 percent of the unemployed, or a total of 6.1 million, have been out of work for more than 27 weeks. The average period of unemployment exceeds 26 weeks, the highest level in postwar history; the previous peak, in July 1983, was just 21.2 weeks. The better and more comprehensive measure of both the unemployed and underemployed, the household survey, edged up to 17.3 percent, up from 8.4 percent two years ago and just a shade below the all-time record.
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