“The most surprising thing is the length of time people have been out of work,” said Hugh Bailey, head of satellite operations for Washington’s Department of Employment Services, where municipal crews are using a mobile van made by Winnebago Industries Inc. to find people. “We ask, ‘How long have you been out of work?’ and may hear, ‘Three, four, or five years.’”
The lowest U.S. jobless rate in three years hasn’t changed the long-term picture for millions of Americans: about 5.5 million haven’t worked for 27 weeks or more and are still looking
-- making up 42.9 percent of the total unemployed pool. Another 2.8 million are too discouraged to actively look for work in recent weeks or have other reasons for not wanting to be in the labor force,
according to non-seasonally adjusted data released Feb. 3 by the Labor Department.
“The labor market is still worse than the official unemployment rate would suggest,” said Henry Mo, an economist at Credit Suisse Group AG in New York.
Unemployment fell to 8.3 percent in January from 9.1 percent a year earlier, and payrolls increased by 243,000 workers, extending from professional services and hospitality to manufacturing. Job gains haven’t done much to boost the percentage of the population participating in the labor force: 63.7 percent, the lowest level in three decades. Last month’s drop in the participation rate reflected adjustments to the labor force count resulting from the 2010 census.