Need Work, Won't Travel

A new and puzzling problem is cropping up among America's job-seekers: stubbornly high long-term unemployment. The problem, of course, is familiar to Europeans, whose jobless spells can last years. But long-term U.S. unemployment--lasting more than six months--usually rises sharply during recessions and then drops just as sharply during recoveries.

Not in this recovery. Since peaking in '92, the percent of the unemployed who have been out of work for six months or longer has declined only about three percentage points. In contrast, it fell 10 percentage points in the three years following its previous peak in 1983 (chart).

Why are so many of the unemployed still searching for work after six months? Part of the answer may be reduced geographical mobility. According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement firm, many laid-off managers are afraid to leave friends and family to take jobs that may prove as impermanent as their former positions. Reluctance to move, says the firm, is especially strong among workers whose spouses have secure, well-paying jobs in their current locations.

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