Jan. 20, 2012 at 7:20 AM ET
Here’s the good news: Employers are hiring more workers than they are firing these days, a welcome turnaround from the darkest days of the Great Recession.
Here’s the bad news: If you are among those unlucky enough to lose your job now, you'd better prepare for a long job search.
The median duration of unemployment was 21 weeks or about five months as of December. That means half of all unemployed workers had been without a job for more than five months.
That’s actually an improvement from mid-2010, when the median duration of unemployment peaked at 25 weeks. But it’s still nearly three times what it was before the recession began and much higher than in previous tough job markets.
The main problem: There just aren’t enough jobs to go around.
Last year the economy added an average of about 137,000 jobs a month. While that’s better than when the economy was shedding jobs, it wasn’t nearly enough to absorb the millions of unemployed and new workers entering the market, said Sylvia Allegretto, an economist with the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley.
“That rate of job growth is simply not fast enough to really soak up all those who are unemployed and underemployed, and those who have left the labor market and will be coming back to the labor market,” Allegretto said.
Allegretto doesn’t expect the situation to improve much soon for the long-term unemployed.
That’s partly because there are still 13 million people who are unemployed and seeking work. It’s also because there are many other Americans out there who may have stopped looking for a job because the market was so bad, and will start looking again if the market improves.
Those excruciatingly long job searches are an especially big problem for older workers. The median duration of unemployment for 20- to 24-year-olds was 16.3 weeks in December, compared with 31.4 weeks for 55- to 64-year-olds.