Job Searches in 2003 the Longest in 20 Years
Fri January 9, 2004 03:35 PM ET
By Jonathan Nicholson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The year 2003 was the most difficult for U.S. job hunters since 1983, as they faced the gloomiest job market in years, according to Labor Department figures released on Friday.
The unemployment rate was the highest since 1994, and the search for a new job was the longest in two decades.
According to Labor Department data, the average spell of unemployment lasted 19.2 weeks in 2003, or almost five months. That was the longest average duration since 1983, when the U.S. economy was emerging from the worst recession since the Depression. Then the average spell was 20.0 weeks.
As a percentage of all the unemployed, the long-term jobless -- those out of work for 27 weeks or more -- made up 22.1 percent in 2003, the highest annual number since 23.9 percent in 1983.
Democrats have called for renewing a federally-funded extension of unemployment benefits offered through states to deal with the problem. They revived their attacks on Friday after a weaker-than-expected jobs report showed only 1,000 new hires in December. Measures of long-term joblessness improved slightly in the month, though.
While Bush administration officials have continually repeated that they will not be satisfied "until every American who wants a job can get one," it has yet to support a renewal of extended benefits, a move many economists say would help blunt the economic damage of the rise in long-term unemployment.
In early December, Treasury Secretary John Snow told Reuters the administration had yet to decide if it would support extending the program for a third time.
According to the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, about 80,000 to 90,000 workers will be exhausting their state-funded benefits every week by late January, after the program's eligibility ended in December.
"Unemployment is the Achilles' heel of this administration and Congressional Republicans, and they cannot continue to ignore it," said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, of Maryland.
Lee Price, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute and a former Clinton-era Commerce Department official, said the long-term jobless numbers show how difficult the labor market remains.
Extending jobless benefits again would stimulate the economy by putting money in the pockets of people not getting paychecks, Price said. "Almost 100 percent of that is going to be spent," he said.