Economic Snapshot | Economic Growth

Unemployment spells in Michigan and South Carolina are the longest in the nation

By Andrea Orr and Kai Filion

Along with the highest rates of unemployment in a generation, the current recession has been characterized by record levels of long-term unemployment.  In April, the median length of unemployment in the United States was 21.6 weeks, up from 15.1 weeks in 2009 and well over double the median unemployment spell of 8.4 weeks at the start of the recession in December 2007. The Map shows the median length of unemployment by state in 2009, the most recent time for which state-level data are available. It shows that job searches were taking the longest in Michigan and South Carolina (19.4 weeks), followed by Florida (18.1 weeks), and Rhode Island (17.0 weeks). States where job searches were shortest include Alaska, North Dakota, and Wyoming, where the median length of unemployment was slightly less than eight weeks in 2009.

It is important to keep in mind a few details when viewing the state data. First, since the typical duration of unemployment nationwide has increased by five-and-a-half weeks since 2009, it is fair to assume that the wait for a job in most states is even longer today than the map reflects. Moreover, even in the states with the shortest median length of unemployment, the typical worker is still taking close to two months to find a job. In terms of unemployment duration at the national level, this recession is much worse than any other since at least 1967, the earliest year for which data are available.  The previous peak of 12.3 weeks reached in May 1983 is dwarfed by the April 2010 length of 21.6 weeks, the highest ever recorded.

Finally, while the median duration of unemployment represents the typical job search, it also means that the wait is longer for half of all unemployed workers. This suggests that many workers will exhaust their standard 26 weeks of unemployment insurance before finding a job. The American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act currently before Congress would extend unemployment benefits through the end of 2010, benefiting about five million long-term unemployed.

For more data on state unemployment rates, by race and gender, visit EPI’s Economy Track.

For state data on the portion of unemployed workers receiving benefits, see the Economic Snapshot, Many jobless can not collect unemployment benefits.