Economic Indicators | Jobs and Unemployment

Job-seekers ratio remains above 4-to-1 for 34th straight month

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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 110,000 in October to 3.3 million. The total number of unemployed workers in October was 13.9 million (unemployment is from the Current Population Survey). Therefore the ratio of unemployed workers to job openings was 4.3-to-1 in October, a deterioration from the revised September ratio of 4.1-to-1.

To put this figure in context, it’s useful to note that 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 been generally slowly improving since its peak of 6.9-to-1 in the summer of 2009, today’s data release marks two years and 10 months—147 weeks—that the ratio has been above 4-to-1. A job-seekers ratio of more than 4-to-1 means that for more than three out of four unemployed workers, there simply are no jobs. In October, there were 10.6 million more unemployed workers than job openings. 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.

The fact that we have had a job-seekers ratio above 4-to-1 for 147 weeks underscores the crucial need for extended unemployment insurance benefits, which last a maximum of 99 weeks. There are 5.7 million people in this country who have been unemployed for more than half a year, up from 1.2 million in 2007. Of course, the reason for this is not that these millions of workers have become lazy, unskilled, or unproductive; it is that there are not enough jobs available. This is no time to cut the number of weeks of benefits, as the House of Representatives appears ready to do. With the Congressional Budget Office projecting an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent at the end of next 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 Nicholas Finio

See more work by Heidi Shierholz