urban institute nonprofit social and economic policy research
Unemployment and Recovery Project

Unemployment Facts

5.0 million

Unemployed more than 26 weeks as of Aug 2012 (40 % of unemployed)


1.3 million

Unemployed more than 26 weeks as of Dec 2007 (17 % of unemployed)

Unemployment Facts

45 million

Number of people getting SNAP (food stamp) benefits in 2011


26 million

Number of people getting SNAP benefits at unemployment peak (1990 recession)


The Unemployment and Recovery project is a three-year research initiative to address the critical unemployment policy challenges facing our country. The project is

  • monitoring and analyzing job creation and employment outcomes over the course of the recovery across groups, regions, and sectors;
  • assessing unemployment's impacts on different population groups, especially the most vulnerable;
  • measuring the effectiveness of public safety net programs for the unemployed and recommending and assessing program and policy changes; and
  • examining workforce development policies and programs and how they are serving the unemployed. [read more]

Research Findings

Recent Labor Force Exit Rates by Age

Recent Labor Force Exit Rates by Age

Why are Fewer People in the Labor Force During the Great Recession?

This study examines changes in labor force participation during and after the Great Recession and makes comparisons with the recession of 2001. A deceleration in labor force entry rather than an acceleration in labor force exits has driven the decline in labor force participation during and after the Great Recession. The decline in entry rates is concentrated among women, particularly young women and among men ages 55 and older. Moreover, we find that the labor force exit rate is lower following the Great Recession than it was following the 2001 recession.Read More



Innovations and Future Directions for Workforce Development in the Post-Recession Era

The Urban Institute held a roundtable designed to inform a broad workforce policy agenda that reflects the changing economic and government landscape and explores new approaches to meeting employer demand for skilled workers and addressing unemployment. Attendees, representing a range of perspectives, focused on collaborative efforts that better connect employers with workforce programs, approaches that help build the education and work experience of under-skilled and unemployed workers, and advances in business practices and technology. This paper highlights attendees' discussions of workforce innovations and practices that hold the most promise and challenges for ensuring an effective U.S. workforce system.Read More


Percentage of Households Using Nonbank Credit

Percentage of Households Using Nonbank Credit

The Rising Use of Nonbank Credit among U.S. Households: 2009-2011

Between January 2009 and June 2011, through the depths of the Great Recession and the initial sluggish recovery, the percentage of U.S. households that had ever used high-cost nonbank credit rose from 11.8 to 14.2 percent. This includes payday loans, pawnshop loans, rent-to-own agreements, and refund anticipation loans. The demographic composition of nonbank credit users also shifted, toward population segments normally considered economically advantaged: older, nonminority, more educated, married couples, and those with incomes above $50,000. Reflecting the broadly-based financial stress among households nationally, 45 percent of nonbank credit users needed such funds for basic living expenses versus unexpected needs.Read More


Workforce Program Budgets

Workforce Program Budgets

The Public Workforce System's Response to Declining Funding After the Great Recession

Based on surveys of state workforce and unemployment insurance (UI) administrators, this study examines how the public workforce system responded to declining funding after the Great Recession. Funding for workforce programs declined sharply, while demand for services remained high. Most states did not supplement federal funding. Instead, they reduced the number of workers served, changed the mix of services offered, and replaced training and more intensive services with less intensive services. UI programs continued paying benefits, but because program administration did not keep pace with benefit payments, states responded by reducing UI staffing and increasing automation.Read More


Average Unemployment Duration

Average Unemployment Duration

Short-Time Compensation and Job Preservation

This paper examines recent labor market trends responsible for increased unemployment duration. It then introduces and describes short-time compensation (STC) programs as a way to preserve jobs and prevent unemployment. STC provides partial unemployment insurance (UI) benefits to eligible workers placed on short work schedules. These UI benefits provide partial compensation for the reduction in hours worked. STC programs cause hours reductions to be spread more widely within the workforce when compared to reductions through layoffs and help to maintain employment. The paper examines STC programs in the United States and in Belgium, Canada, Germany and Italy. It describes recent STC legislation in the United States and discusses way to increase STC utilization.Read More


Average Monthly Per Capita Family Income for Long-Term Unemployed

Average Monthly Per Capita Family Income for Long-Term Unemployed

Financial Consequences of Long-Term Unemployment during the Great Recession and Recovery

Extended job loss dealt a serious financial blow to many workers during the Great Recession and recovery. Despite the protection provided by unemployment insurance benefits, family incomes fell 40 percent or more for half of workers unemployed for at least six consecutive months between August 2008 and December 2011. About a quarter began experiencing economic hardship, including more than a third of African Americans, Hispanics, and unmarried adults. Social Security shielded most workers ages 62 and older from the worst outcomes, although early retirees receive lower monthly retirement checks for the rest of their lives, possibly causing financial hardship later.Read More


Unemployment Rate by Selected Industries

Unemployment Rate by Selected Industries

Recessionary Loss of Routine Occupations Within and Between Industries

This brief examines how employment in routine and nonroutine jobs changed both within and across industries during the Great Recession. Only a small fraction of the decline in routine jobs can be attributed to declining shares of routine jobs within industries. Most of the decline occurred between industries, because industries with a high share of routine jobs lost more employment than industries with a small share of routine jobs. This implies that workers in routine occupations who lost their jobs during the Great Recession will likely need to develop new skills for a different, nonroutine occupation in a different industry.Read More


Unemployment Rate and Employment-to-Population Ratio

Unemployment Rate and Employment-to-Population Ratio

Government Job Losses Hit the Young, the Less Educated, and Women the Hardest

The Great Recession was characterized by dramatic declines in private-sector employment with a lagged decline in public-sector jobs as well. Even as the private sector has slowly recovered, public-sector job losses have continued to mount. This analysis finds that in both the private and public sectors, job losses have hit the young, the less educated, and women the hardest. Therefore, the public sector has reinforced rather than buffered private-sector trends.Read More


Male Unemployment Rates by Race, Ethnicity, and Age

Male Unemployment Rates by Race, Ethnicity, and Age

The Labor Market Performance of Young Black Men in the Great Recession

Although all American workers have experienced hardship as a result of the recession, labor market performance and program participation vary significantly across race, ethnic, and age groups. This brief assesses the labor market performance of young black men (ages 18 to 24) relative to men in other racial/ethnic groups during the Great Recession. Young black men had far higher unemployment rates and lower incomes than young white men. In addition, among the jobless, young black men were less likely to receive unemployment insurance and more likely to rely on means-tested public assistance than young white men.Read More


Monthly Unemployment of Foreign-Born

Monthly Unemployment of Foreign-Born

Hit Hard but Bouncing Back: The Employment of Immigrants During the Great Recession and the Recovery

During the Great Recession immigrants lost more employment, relative to their initial employment level, than U.S.-born workers. During the Recovery immigrants gained more employment than U.S-born workers. The employment gains of immigrants during the recovery spread among all educational groups except those with no high school diploma. Among U.S.-born workers, only those with Bachelor's degree or more gained employment. By mid-2012, the employment of both immigrants and U.S.-born workers were still below the pre-recession level.Read More


Major Workforce Program Initiatives of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

Major Workforce Program Initiatives of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

The Response of the U.S. Public Workforce System to High Unemployment during the Great Recession

The Great Recession and the high unemployment that followed have been the public workforce system’s greatest challenge. How did the workforce system respond to these challenges? How has it performed over the past five years? How adequate has system funding been to serve the unemployed? This paper finds that that the American public policy response to the Great Recession was unbalanced and did not fully serve the immediate needs of unemployed workers by adequately funding reemployment and training services. Read More


Risk of Workers Experiencing Unemployment over 32 months

Risk of Workers Experiencing Unemployment over 32 months

Job Polarization and the Great Recession

For decades, the labor market has grown more polarized with employment and wages growing more slowly for middle-skill jobs than for other jobs. By most measures, polarization did not accelerate during the Great Recession. More polarization is evident, however, in the wages of re-employed workers. Read More


UI Program Reserve Ratio 1960 to 2011

UI Program Reserve Ratio 1960 to 2011

Financing Unemployment Insurance After the Great Recession

This brief assesses the financing of regular state UI benefits, specifically state financing experiences during and after the Great Recession that commenced December 2007. Sections (1) provide background on the Unemployment Insurance (UI) system; (2) summarize UI system performance in the Great Recession, providing an overview of benefit payment experiences, state borrowing, and the response of the UI tax system that finances regular benefits; (3) analyze causes for the financing problem; and finally, (4) discuss potential remedies to improve fiscal integrity in regular UI, focusing on both state and federal policy action to restore its long-run fiscal solvency. Read More


Labor force and unemployed Workers by Age (%)

Labor Force and Unemployed Workers by Age (%)

Identifying Those at Greater Risk of Long-Term Unemployment

This brief compares the characteristics of the long-term unemployed with those of the recently unemployed. It also compares the long-term unemployed today with the long-term unemployed at the height of the recession to identify workers for whom the risk of long-term unemployment has increased. Older workers, women, and those with more education are less likely to become unemployed than other workers but, once they become unemployed, they are disproportionately more likely to experience long-term unemployment. In addition, older workers, women, and unmarried adults without children have made up increasingly larger shares of the long-term unemployed since the recession’s end. Read More


Recipiency Rate in State UI Programs, 2010

Recipiency Rate in State UI Programs, 2010

Disadvantaged Workers and the Unemployment Insurance Program

The unemployment insurance system is composed of state programs guided by broad federal principles, with funding and eligibility rules left to the states. The participation of employers injects a good deal of contentiousness and errors, while the principle of "no fault of their own" limits the eligibility of many workers who separate from their jobs for family and health reasons or because their temporary job ended. This system leaves many disadvantaged workers behind to the extent that only between 10 and 36 percent of unemployed workers with labor market disadvantages collected benefits in 2010, in comparison to 69 percent of non-disadvantaged workers. Read More


Percentage unemployed, by race/ethnicity, 2010

Percentage Unemployed, by Race/Ethnicity, 2010

Racial and Ethnic Differences in Receipt of Unemployment Insurance Benefits During the Great Recession

The Great Recession hit black workers harder; the unemployment rate was higher for non-Hispanic black than for non-Hispanic white or Hispanic workers, and black unemployed workers had the lowest receipt of Unemployment Insurance benefits, 23.8 percent compared to whites' 33.2 percent. Differences persist even after controlling for education, past employment, and reasons for unemployment.Read More


Distribution of Employment by Industry

Distribution of Employment by Industry

Labor Market and Demographic Analysis: A National Picture of Short-term Employment Growth by Skill

Over the next five years, employment growth is projected to be slightly higher for jobs that require both the lowest and highest levels of education, although job growth is modest to slow across the board. The prospects for low-skill workers in the short-term are best in the leisure and hospitality sector and the professional and business services sector, with additional jobs appearing in construction as that sector continues to recover. A companion portrait of unemployed workers highlights that a disproportionate number of those seeking work are low-skilled.Read More


Percentage of Workers Unemployed by Age

Percentage of Workers Unemployed by Age

Age Disparities in Unemployment and Reemployment During the Great Recession and Recovery

As unemployment surged during the Great Recession and subsequent recovery, older workers were less likely than their younger counterparts to lose their jobs. However, unemployed workers in their fifties were about a fifth less likely than those age 25 to 34 to become reemployed between 2008 and 2011, and they experienced steep wage losses. Median hourly earnings for reemployed workers age 51 to 61 were 21 percent lower on the new job than the prelayoff job, compared with only 7 percent for those age 25 to 34. These declines may reflect lost productivity or employer reluctance to hire older workers.Read More


Number of states that adopted an Unemployment Insurance modernization policy

Number of States that Adopted an Unemployment Insurance Modernization Policy

How Do Unemployment Insurance Modernization Laws Affect the Number and Composition of Eligible?

In recent years, states have considered several changes to the Unemployment Insurance (UI) system, with the goal of expanding the pool of workers eligible for benefits. Those reforms are loosening the work history requirement (i.e., adopting the alternative base period), increasing eligibility for those seeking part-time work, and allowing workers who quit their jobs for compelling family obligations to be eligible for UI benefits. We find without such changes, slightly more than half of all individuals out of work would be eligible for benefits; if all these changes were universally adopted, more than 70 percent of them would be eligible. Read More


Unemployment Rates for Men and Women Age 55–64, Nov. 2007 to Jan. 2012 (%)

Unemployment Rates for Men and Women Age 55–64, Nov. 2007 to Jan. 2012 (%) (not seasonally adjusted)

Unemployment Statistics on Older Americans

The recession has increased joblessness among older Americans. These graphs and tables report unemployment rates and how they have varied by age, sex, race, and education since 2007. Read More


Taxable Wage Proportions in 2009

Employment Changes Since Start of Recession by Sector: Manufacturing Percent Change in Manufacturing Employment Share: 2007 to Present

U.S. Job Losses Vary By Metro and Industry

The Great Recession has led to uneven job losses, and these losses vary by industry and metro.  Because some metros are now left with a new and different industrial mix and nobody knows whether the pre-recession distribution of job opportunities will return, it’s important to consider what might happen if the change is permanent. Read More


Taxable Wage Proportions in 2009

Taxable Wage Proportions in 2009

Unemployment Insurance and the Great Recession (Brief)

This issue brief examines the unprecedented funding problem of state unemployment insurance (UI) programs. The majority of UI programs (36 of 53) have borrowed, securing record loan amounts to maintain unemployment insurance benefit payments during 2009-2011. It identifies the causes of the funding problem, discusses borrowing options for states and describes policy responses at both the state and federal levels. State actions have included both tax increases and benefit reductions. Federal policy proposals have addressed the low UI taxable wage base in most states and have offered partial debt forgiveness in return for state actions to improve solvency. To date, policy actions have been slow at both the state and federal levels of government. Read more


Unemployment Insurance and the Great Recession

Aggregate Reserve Ration, 1960 to 2010

Unemployment Insurance and the Great Recession (Paper)

This paper examines the unprecedented funding problem of state unemployment insurance (UI) programs. The majority of UI programs (36 of 53) have borrowed, securing record loan amounts to maintain unemployment insurance benefit payments during 2009-2011. It identifies the causes of the funding problem, discusses borrowing options for states and describes policy responses at both the state and federal levels. State actions have included both tax increases and benefit reductions. Federal policy proposals have addressed the low UI taxable wage base in most states and have offered partial debt forgiveness in return for state actions to improve solvency. To date, policy actions have been slow at both the state and federal levels of government. Read more


Unemployment: Top 100 Metros (July 2011)

Percentage Change in Employment by State

Where It Really Hurts: Job Losses for Low-Skill Workers by State

Labor market deterioration during the Great Recession has been both substantial overall and unevenly distributed across regions and types of workers. In particular, low-skill workers have lost proportionately more jobs than other workers nationwide and done particularly poorly in a number of states. This fact sheet shows the loss of low-skill jobs by state over the recession and how it compares to overall job losses by state. Read more


Unemployment: Top 100 Metros (July 2011)

Unemployment: Top 100 Metros (July 2011)

Unemployment Rates by Metro Area

While the Great Recession and sluggish recovery have meant sustained high unemployment in metros nationwide, those in states hardest hit by the housing crisis, such as Florida, Nevada, and California, have suffered the most. Read more


Poverty by Weeks of Unemployment in 2010

Unemployment Lasting Three or More Weeks by Family Status, 2005 and 2009 (percent)

Is the Safety Net Catching Unemployed Families?
Austin Nichols, Sheila R. Zedlewski

The vast majority of unemployed families received some help from core safety net programs in 2009. Among those experiencing unemployment, receipt of unemployment benefits doubled between 2005 and 2009. Enrollment in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) also increased. Public Assistance played a limited role in unemployed families' lives. About 15 percent of low-work, unemployed families got no help from the safety net. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 clearly helped to strengthen the safety net. This extra help has mostly ended, leaving many families to contend with high unemployment and a frayed safety net. Read more


Poverty by Weeks of Unemployment in 2010

Job Losses More Abrupt and Severe than in Past Recessions

What to Do about the New Unemployment
Pamela J. Loprest

This brief provides information on what we as a country can do about unemployment by drawing together information presented in three UI forums about ways to jumpstart the job market, how younger and older workers are faring in and after the recession, and how the safety net needs to be retooled in times of high unemployment. The text below is . Read more


Poverty by Weeks of Unemployment in 2010

Poverty by Weeks of Unemployment in 2010

Unemployment and Poverty
Austin Nichols, Thomas Callan

Poverty is higher among the unemployed. In 2010, 30 percent of the long-term unemployed were poor, and 66 percent of single parents unemployed more than 26 weeks were poor. Read more


Change in Employment as a Percentage of Employment in September–December 2007 by Skill Category

Poverty and Unemployment Over 40 Years

Poverty in the United States
Austin Nichols

The U.S. Census Bureau has announced that the poverty rate jumped to 15.1 percent in 2010, up from 14.3 percent in 2009 and 13.2 percent in 2008. This 18-year high still understates the dire straits of many Americans today. The devastation of poverty grows more severe over time as individuals exhaust private resources and temporary benefits. Read more


Change in Employment as a Percentage of Employment in September–December 2007 by Skill Category

Change in Employment as a Percentage of Employment in September–December 2007 by Skill Category

Less-Educated Continue to Lose Jobs in Recovery-Even in Low-Wage Industries
Pamela J. Loprest, Austin Nichols

In the sluggish recovery, less-educated workers, especially those with a high school degree or less, continue to lose jobs at a substantial rate. This factsheet presents employment changes in the recession and recovery by skill level and industry showing that those with less than a high school degree were hit hardest, even in low wage industries. Gains in the recovery have been concentrated among workers with a college education. Read more


TANF Expenditures, Selected Years from 1997 to 2009 (billions of 2009 dollars)

TANF Expenditures, Selected Years from 1997 to 2009 (billions of 2009 dollars)

What Role is Welfare Playing in this Period of High Unemployment?
Sheila R. Zedlewski, Pamela J. Loprest, Erika Huber

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the nation's cash assistance program for poor families with children, has not played much of a countercyclical role during the current recession. As unemployment has risen, TANF caseloads nationally have grown much more slowly and state TANF caseloads have not tracked state unemployment growth. Program rules and financing structures limit the responsiveness of TANF in a downturn. As TANF reauthorization is considered, this brief details some relatively small changes that could improve the program's effectiveness in future recessions. Read more


Percentage Change in SNAP Enrollment by State, 2007–10

Percentage Change in SNAP Enrollment by State, 2007–10

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Counters High Unemployment
Sheila R. Zedlewski

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) provides assistance to millions of families in the US. This fact sheet describes how, as unemployment rates have climbed, so have the rates of SNAP receipt — among older families, families with children, and single adults. Read More


Estimated Impact of the Great Recession on Average Age-70 Income, Adults Age 55 to 59 in 2008, by Income Source (%)

Estimated Impact of the Great Recession on Average Age-70 Income, Adults Age 55 to 59 in 2008, by Income Source (%)

How Will the Great Recession Affect Future Retirement Incomes?
Barbara Butrica, Richard W. Johnson, Karen E. Smith

The financial impact of the 2007–2009 recession will reverberate into retirement for many working families, even those who did not lose their jobs. Average wages grew very slowly during the downturn, reducing lifetime earnings. Lower earnings leave less income to set aside for retirement and depress future Social Security and pension incomes. Although unusually strong wage growth in coming years could bail out younger workers, there is little recourse for workers now approaching traditional retirement ages. For those age 55 to 59 in 2008, the Great Recession will reduce average age-70 incomes by 5 percent. Read More

Unemployment and Recovery is a project of The Urban Institute supported by funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation with additional project support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.