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Long-term unemployment is one of the hardest-hitting aspects of a recession. Workers who are jobless for extended periods of time find it difficult to pay their bills and support their families. It is imperative that those who are laid off be able to quickly find new jobs and get back to work.

Under President Reagan, long-term unemployment was limited in scope. The average number of weeks that a jobless worker spent unemployed reached its highest point at 21.2 in July 1983. For most of Reagan’s presidency, the figure hovered around 15 weeks.

Similarly, the number of workers unable to find employment for 27 weeks or longer saw a short-lived spike in the aftermath of the early 1980s recession but generally remained at a low level during Reagan’s two terms. 2.89 million workers were jobless for more than six months in June 1983, but the figure dropped dramatically and settled below 750,000 at the end of the Reagan presidency.

The long-term unemployment situation has been drastically different under President Obama. Simply put, Barack Obama has been the president of continuing joblessness. No other administration has overseen comparable levels of average weeks unemployed. A sharp increase occurred at the beginning of Obama’s presidency and the drop that ordinarily accompanies a recovery has not come to pass.

The average weeks unemployed figure hit its highest value at 40.9 weeks in November 2011 and has remained in the high 30s for the majority of President Obama’s time in office. Newly released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the average number of weeks that an unemployed American worker has been jobless rose to 39.9 weeks in June. In the Obama era, the average worker who loses her job will not find a new one for nearly nine months; this bleak state of affairs is entirely unprecedented and radically dissimilar to the situation under President Reagan.

Perhaps the only figures more striking than average weeks unemployed statistics from the Obama presidency are those that measure the number of workers unemployed for 27 weeks or longer. In March 2008, towards the end of the presidency of George W. Bush, 1.32 million Americans were out of work for longer than six months. By April 2010, just over two years later, the figure had shot up to 6.37 million. Today’s BLS report shows that in June an astronomically high 5.37 million American workers were unemployed for longer than six months. For perspective, the 2.89 million people unemployed in the early 1980s recession had been the previous high water mark; at no other time since the BLS began recording the statistic had the number of long-term unemployed exceeded 2.2 million. 

Vice President Biden said recently, “When your brother-in-law is out of work, it’s a recession. When you’re out of work, it’s a depression.” While many Americans felt like they were experiencing a depression following the early 1980s recession, roughly four times as many have felt that way during the entire Obama administration. Under President Obama, long-term unemployment has become the “new normal,” and Americans are suffering because of it.

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