Economic Indicators | Jobs and Unemployment

Nearly three years of a job-seekers ratio above 4-to-1

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Today’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the number of job openings decreased by 63,000 in November 2011, to 3.2 million; also, October’s job openings were revised down by 43,000. In November, there were 13.3 million unemployed workers, an improvement from 13.8 million in October (unemployment figures come from the Current Population Survey and can be found here). Therefore the ratio of unemployed workers to job openings was 4.2-to-1 in November, a slight improvement from the revised October ratio of 4.3-to-1.

To put this figure in context, the highest this ratio ever got in the early 2000s downturn was 2.8-to-1, and in December 2000, the month the JOLTS survey began, the ratio was 1.1-to-1. While the job-seekers ratio has slowly been improving since it peaked at 6.9-to-1 in the summer of 2009, today’s data release marks two years and 11 months—152 weeks—that the ratio has been above 4-to-1. A job-seekers ratio of more than 4-to-1 means that there are no jobs for more than three out of four unemployed workers, no matter what job seekers do. Furthermore, the lack of job openings relative to unemployed workers is in no way limited to particular industries such as construction—unemployed workers dramatically outnumber job openings across the board, in every major industry.

MORE: Sort through updated graphs using data from today’s report

The fact that we have had a job-seekers ratio above 4-to-1 for 152 weeks underscores the crucial need for continuing extended unemployment insurance benefits, which now last a maximum of 99 weeks. There are currently 5.6 million people in this country who have been unemployed for more than half a year, up from 1.2 million in 2007.  As the job-seekers ratio shows, what’s happening is not that millions of workers have become lazy, unskilled, or unproductive; it is that there are not enough jobs available. With the Congressional Budget Office projecting an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent at the end of this year, continuing federally funded unemployment insurance benefit extensions through 2012 would extend a lifeline to the families of millions of long-term unemployed workers, and generate spending that would support well over half a million jobs.

With research assistance from Natalie Sabadish and Hilary Wething

See more work by Heidi Shierholz