WASHINGTON -- A new study from the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the Great Recession that technically ended in 2009 has doubled the time it takes before the average unemployed person either finds a job or gives up looking for work.
Each month, BLS announces the latest unemployment rate and several other characteristics of the workforce, including the length of time people have been jobless. Last Friday's announcement brought news that the average unemployed person had been looking for work for 39.7 weeks as of May (the median length of unemployment rose to 22 weeks).
According to a new paper by BLS economist Randy Ilg, by the end of 2010 the median successful job search lasted 10 weeks, up from five weeks in 2007. For people who gave up hope of finding jobs and left the labor force, the median search in 2010 lasted 20 weeks. Before the recession started, fruitless job searches usually ended after 8.5 weeks. People who want work but aren't looking because they figure none is available don't count as unemployed for the purposes of the headline unemployment rate, which is 9.1 percent. Add them in and you get 10.3 percent.
"The recent recession has had a profound effect on the length of successful job search," Ilg wrote. "Moreover, once unemployed, the likelihood that one would be successful in one’s job search decreased as the length of time spent searching for work increased."
A chart accompanying the report shows that in 2007, 49 percent of jobseekers found work within five weeks of becoming unemployed. In 2010, that number fell to 34 percent. Over the same period of time, the percentage of job seekers who landed jobs after a full year rose from 2.8 percent to 11 percent.
In May, the number of people who've been out of work six months or longer rose 361,000 to 6.2 million, representing 45.1 percent of the 13.9 million unemployed. As of last October, roughly 1.4 million had been out of work for 99 weeks or longer, which is the cutoff point of unemployment insurance.