The Recession May Be Over, But the Jobs Crisis Isn’t

The Times and Journal with good angles on unemployment

There’s some good reporting on the nation’s unemployment crisis on A1 of the major papers today. We always like to see that. It’s the big story right now and will be for a long time.

The New York Times explores the long odds facing unemployed workers in their fifties and sixties. The Wall Street Journal looks at an equally important issue: How college-educated workers aren’t feeling the pain nearly as badly as those who only have high-school diplomas or less.

(Both the NYT and WSJ stories are reported by former cubicle neighbors of mine, Motoko Rich and Conor Dougherty, respectively, at The Wall Street Journal.)

The Journal zeroes in on the college divide and the differences are pretty stark:

The unemployment rate for workers 25-and-older with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 4.6% in August, for example, compared with 10.3% for those with just a high-school diploma…

Laid-off college graduates are also finding work faster. Their median duration of unemployment was 18.4 weeks as of August, compared with 27.5 weeks for high-school grads.

There’s a lot of good data and historical context here. For instance, we find out that the unemployment rate for college-educated people hadn’t gone above 3.9 percent since at least 1979 (and so probably since the Depression) until this recession.

The Journal puts faces on the data by telling the stories of two Gary, Indiana, classmates and how their fortunes have diverged. One went to school, and the other didn’t.

The Times profiles a 57-year-old woman who’s been out of work for four years and despairs of ever working again. Folks over 55 who lose jobs are unemployed an average of 39 weeks right now—far higher than the average.

It’s an effective piece—a good portrait of a slice of the country in one of the most difficult situations: Too young to retire and draw Social Security. But gray enough to be discriminated against in favor of younger workers. Normally, as the labor market tightens in a recovery, these end-of-career workers get a better chance to find work. That’s not going to happen this time:

At this year’s pace of an average of 82,000 new jobs a month, it will take at least eight more years to create the 8 million positions lost during the recession. And that does not even allow for population growth.

What do you do about a problem like that? A good follow-up here would explore some ideas for that. I’ve heard talk of temporarily lowering the Social Security retirement age to scoop up these folks while clearing the labor market, as well. What else is there?

While the recession is now officially over, the unemployment crisis will stretch on for years. It’s important that papers like the Times and Journal keep doing this work and keep giving it the splash it deserves.

Further Reading:

Look at the Jobless Rate for the New Joads
: How unemployment affects groups differently.

End of the Line for the 99ers
: WaPo highlights the longtime jobless

Unemployment (Still) Worse Than You Think.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.