Long-Term Unemployed and Discouraged Workers Take Brunt of March Disappointment

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The real terror of the March unemployment figures was not that the economy added only 88,000 jobs. Much worse than that is the lack of improvement in the situations of those battered the most by the halting recovery — the long-term unemployed and part-time and discouraged workers. So little progress has been made among these groups that it can barely be measured. And the best sign of a full-blown recovery likely will be when improvements occur across the broadest spectrum.

The number of long-term unemployed (those out of work more than 27 weeks) remained flat from February at 4.6 million, which is about the same as the population of all of urban Houston. These persons represent 36.9% of the entire unemployment pool. They put the heaviest burden on unemployment benefits, and as their plight reaches more than 99 weeks, many will have no benefits at all.

The other group that is ignored in the top line numbers is those who are involuntary part-time workers, which numbered 7.6 million last month. And 2.3 million persons were marginally attached.

To put these numbers in context:

Both the number of unemployed persons, at 11.7 million, and the unemployment rate, at 7.6 percent, were little changed in March.

Many economist recognized the breadth of these additional unemployed when they measure the recovery. But another important measure do not. The Federal Reserve has put its goal at 6.5% unemployment before it begins to back off the easing process. Total unemployment across all groups could still be well above 8% at that time.

The jobs situation is not just worst than reported in most cases. The ripple effects of this continue to spread across the economy. Marginally attached and part-time workers are likely to be at the bottom rung of consumer spending levels. Virtually none of these people are home, auto and consumer electronics buyers.

Based on the jobs story across the country and all groups, the recession is hardly over.