House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has asked the CBO for information about the characteristics of people who have been unemployed for a long time. Specifically, she asked the agency to describe any changes in those characteristics that occurred between March 2007 and March 2014. In answering that question, this document supplements and updates information provided in CBO’s Understanding and Responding to Persistently High Unemployment (February 2012).
The recent recession and slow recovery led to a high rate of long-term unemployment, which is defined as being out of work for more than 26 consecutive weeks. That rate peaked at 4.3 percent in the second quarter of calendar year 2010 and has fallen considerably since then. It was 2.4 percent in March 2014 and has since fallen further to 1.9 percent in the third quarter of 2014, still about a percentage point above its average from 2001 to 2007.
In both of the periods that CBO compared (March 2007 and March 2014), people experiencing long-term unemployment were, relative to the overall labor force, more likely to be male, to be young, to be unmarried, to be African American, and to have no postsecondary education. However, the characteristics of the long-term unemployed changed in some ways between the two periods. For example, among people unemployed for more than half a year, some groups accounted for larger shares in 2014 than in 2007—particularly women, people with a college or graduate degree, and people age 55 or older. Also, as typically happens during and after a recession, people who lost a job involuntarily accounted for a larger fraction of the long-term unemployed in 2014 than they did before the recession.