Glimmer of good news
But the June report did contain some good news concerning average length of unemployment for older workers, who tend to stay out of work longer than younger workers. For the 55-plus group, the duration shortened to 52.4 weeks, down from 54.7 in the May report. For people under 55, it also shrank, to 35.6 weeks from 38.9.
But concerning unemployment rates for older workers, “there has been no consistent improvement” in recent months, says Sara Rix, senior strategic adviser at AARP. “And these rates remain well above what they had been in the postwar era.”
The June unemployment report marks the two-year anniversary of the official start of the economic recovery, but real-life improvement has been minimal. Tepid hiring, high gas prices, the depressed real estate market, weak consumer spending and the continuing layoffs of state and local government workers continued to hamper momentum.
Economists who had predicted a solid recovery for 2011 now say the rest of the year may mirror the two-steps-forward-one-step-back routine of the first half. If that proves true, it could take years before the jobless rate sinks to pre-recession levels.
Heidi Shierholz, a labor market economist with the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, says 350,000 jobs would have to be added to the U.S. economy each month from now until December 2014 for the jobless rate to fall to 5 percent. So far, hiring has barely kept up with population growth.
"We're not digging our way out of this; we're just hanging on and treading water," Shierholz says. "House prices are still dropping, consumers are poorer than they used to be, so they're not spending strongly, and consumer confidence numbers are not growing. There's nothing out there that suggests a real pickup in growth. We're still in for a long haul."
Bill Watkins, executive director of the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting in Thousand Oaks, Calif., says that in certain sectors part of what's holding back employers from hiring is a lack of workers with specialized skills. For example, the health care field added jobs during the recession while the construction industry lost ground. But the skills required of workers in those fields are mismatched.
"It's pretty difficult to take a construction worker and turn him into a health care worker," Watkins says.
The underemployment rate, which many economists say is a truer gauge of the nation's job situation, is 18.5 percent, according to the Gallup polling and research firm. The underemployed include jobless workers as well as those working part time because they couldn't find full-time work.
Unemployment and other kinds of economic turbulence vary state by state. To see your state’s numbers, go to AARP’s “pain index” page.