Working Papers

The Changing Face of the U.S. Labor Force

The Composition of the Unemployed and Long-term Unemployed in Tough Labor Markets


This paper documents and examines the demographic characteristics of the workforce in the context of unemployment and long-term unemployment with an emphasis on recessions. We first look at the historical tracking of unemployment and long-term unemployment. Long-termers, those out of work for at least six months, have become a relatively larger share of the unemployed in good times and bad. Secondly, annual data from 2009 is presented. We give extensive demographic breakdowns to examine differential rates of unemployment and long-term unemployment across and within groups. Those disproportionally affected by the on going recession that began in December 2007were those who were the least educated; males; Blacks and Hispanics; teenagers; and young workers. Workers in the construction and production occupations were hit hard as were those in the construction and manufacturing industries. The latter part of this paper compares and contrasts labor market outcomes demographically across the last four recessionary periods. In general, less educated, young and non-whites continue to disproportionally bear the brunt of economic downturns but less so than in the past.