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3.2 million Americans are still long-term unemployed as benefits are set to expire


OLIVIER DOULIERY | AFP | Getty Images

More than a third of jobless Americans in August were long-term unemployed as benefits for these workers are set to expire.

About 3.2 million people — or 37.4% of the total unemployed — have been out of work for at least six months, the official barometer for long-term unemployment, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.

The share has fallen for two consecutive months and is less than its March 2021 peak of 43.4%. But August’s level remains high by historical standards. The Great Recession is the only period since World War II during which more than 30% of jobless Americans were long-term unemployed; at that time, it topped out at 45.5% in April 2010.  

Individuals out of work for long periods of time typically face greater financial hardship.

Household income may drop significantly and finding a new job becomes more difficult, according to labor economists. The dynamic may negatively impact long-term earnings potential and increase the odds of losing a future job.

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Federal expansions of unemployment benefits have propped up household income during the pandemic and blunted these financial impacts.

The unemployed can typically collect state unemployment insurance for up to 26 weeks, though some states offer less. The expansions offered several additional weeks of federally financed benefits for the long-term unemployed.

However, those benefits expire on Labor Day. (Administrative rules mean they’ll lapse on Saturday or Sunday, though, depending on the state.)

About 3.8 million long-term unemployed were receiving that federal assistance as of mid-August, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday. Most Republican state governors withdrew the federal aid in June or July before their official nationwide expiration.

Other federal aid is ending around the same time, too. The Supreme Court on Aug. 26 struck down a national eviction ban put in place by the Biden administration, potentially affecting millions of people behind on their rent. (Some states still have an eviction moratorium in place.)

Job prospects may also be hindered due to a spike in new Covid cases fueled by the highly contagious delta variant.

The U.S. added 235,000 jobs in August, much fewer than the 720,000 economists had expected and a marked slowdown from the roughly 1 million added in both June and July. The economy is still 5.3 million jobs short of its pre-pandemic levels.

Despite that slowdown, Biden administration officials pointed to average job growth of 750,000 in the past three months and a drop in the unemployment rate to 5.2%, the lowest since the pandemic started.

“But we have work to do to beat back the delta variant and build an inclusive economy,” U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said. “Rising infection rates in some states hit the food and retail sectors hard, where workers of color and women are disproportionately represented.”



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