An often overlooked number calculated by the Labor Department shows millions of Americans want a job but haven’t searched for one in at least a year. They’ve simply given up hope.
They’re not counted as part of the labor force, the official unemployment rate, or the category the Labor Department refers to as “discouraged workers” — those who haven’t bothered to look for work in the last four weeks.
These hopelessly unemployed workers have just been jobless so long, they’ve fallen off the main government measures altogether.
“The way we’re measuring the long-term unemployed has a lot of holes in it,” said Stephen Bronars, senior economist for Welch Consulting. “A person can be discouraged for a while, but then gets bumped over into this other category.”
The Labor Department started tracking this group in 1994, but it doesn’t get much attention. Recently, it has started growing more rapidly than usual, even as other job measures have shown improvement.
Five years ago, before the recession began, about 2.5 million people said they wanted a job but hadn’t searched for one in at least a year. Now, that number is around 3.25 million.
“We have always had a set of people who want a job but for whatever reason are not looking,” said Heidi Shierholz, economist with the Economic Policy Institute. “But this recession was so severe and job opportunities are still so weak, this group is growing because of that.”