Long-Term Unemployment Is Becoming The Norm

With people out of work for longer periods of time than ever, unemployment in America isn't like it used to be.

"Long term unemployment is more than ever the norm of a layoff, and it's across the country and across the economy that this is happening," said Andrew Stettner of the National Employment Law Project.

The number of people out of work for 27 weeks or longer rose from 5.9 million to 6.1 million in December. Those folks now account for a record 39.8 percent of all the unemployed -- 15.3 million, a total that remained unchanged in December.

The number of people who've been collecting unemployment benefits for at least six months has increased by more than 100 percent in 40 states from November 2008 to November 2009, according to an analysis of unemployment insurance data compiled by NELP.

Reality is even worse than the numbers suggest.

"This is certainly a crisis of huge proportion and it is reflected in an extraordinary number of people unemployed for a very long time," wrote Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, in an email to HuffPost. "It's even worse than that because we're seeing a large withdrawal from the job market and one can assume that this is among those who have been unemployed a long time -- giving up."

Mishel highlighted the fact that 661,000 people ditched the workforce in December. The number of long-term unemployed as counted by the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics only catches people actively looking for work; it excludes forced part-timers and people who've given up looking for new jobs.

Long-term unemployment can feed on itself.

"People lose job skills, they become unemployable," wrote Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "It becomes a real long-term problem. People in their late 40s and 50s who end up out of work for long periods of time may drop out of the work force and never get another regular job."