The current jobs crisis long ago surpassed all previous recessions in terms of jobs lost, but the national unemployment rate has not risen higher than it did during the dive of the early 1980s, when unemployment hovered above 10 percent for 10 months.
Accounting for the aging of the labor force since then, however, reveals a modern-day workforce weaker than the numbers suggest -- and an unemployment rate higher than at any point since the Great Depression, according to a new report by David Rosnick, an economist with the progressive Center for Economic and Policy Research.
"An unemployment rate that has hovered above 9 percent for several months is striking, but the jobs picture is even worse than it looks," said Rosnick in a statement.
Younger workers' share of the workforce has fallen from just under 24 percent to just under 14 percent in the past 30 years, according to Rosnick's analysis of Labor Department data. Unemployment among workers younger than 25 has consistently been much, much higher than among older workers.
If today's labor force had the age composition it did nearly 30 years ago, the national unemployment rate would be much higher in every month of the last year.
"After adjusting for the aging of the population since the early 1980s, the current labor-market
downturn has resulted in both a higher unemployment rate and a longer period when the rate of unemployment remained over 10 percent," says the report. "On the same age-adjusted basis, the unemployment rate has been over ten percent for thirteen consecutive months, including five months over 11.0 percent and reaching 11.2 percent in October of 2009. Over the last twelve months, the rate of unemployment has never fallen below 10.8 percent."
From the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, here's the raw national unemployment rate since 1980:
And here's EPI's chart comparing the average rate of unemployment for each age group during a year of the current recession and the recession of the early '80s: