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Jobless Figures Hide Record Long-Term Unemployment

While the Bush administration touts increases in new jobs, several recent reports show the nation's job crisis is deeply entrenched as millions of workers remain unemployed longer and the nation continues to lose manufacturing jobs.

The official unemployment rate for the third quarter of 2004—5.5 percent—significantly understates the severity of the jobs crisis. The rate ignores millions of Americans who either have lost their jobs and given up on finding new ones or who want to join the workforce but are too discouraged to try because the job situation remains so bleak. If these workers were include, the unemployment rate would be 7.5 percent.

The official unemployment rate also masks the rising number of long-term unemployed workers, according to the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Some 1.2 million workers, or 14.5 percent of unemployed workers, have been out of work for 39 weeks or more, EPI found. Historically, a long-term jobless rate this high has been associated with much higher unemployment rates.

When Congress enacted the Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation (TEUC) program in 2002, the jobless rate was 5.7 percent, with some 700,000 workers among the long-term jobless. Last year, before Christmas, congressional Republican leaders refused to renew the TEUC program, which provides additional unemployment benefits when workers' benefits expire in high unemployment states. Workers received their last checks in March. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that since the TEUC program expired, a record-setting 3 million long-term unemployed workers have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits without finding jobs and with no federal benefits to fall back on.

"The unemployment rate is not representative of the real struggles and woes of workers in the economy," says EPI Economist Sylvia Allegretto, who co-authored the long-term jobless report.


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