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Two years after the official end of the recession, policymakers are still struggling to tackle the nation’s persistently high jobless rate. Unlike in prior downturns, the current job market’s weakness is both broad and deep—which is why easy fixes will be hard to come by.

What industries have hurt the most?


Since the recession’s official start in December 2007 through August 2011, the economy has shed a net total of 6.85 million jobs. The hardest-hit sectors have been construction and manufacturing, which together have lost 3.9 million jobs. Only two sectors—health care and education—have seen any growth.
Net change in jobs, Dec. 2007—Aug. 2011
  • Manufacturing -1.983 million
  • Construction -1.963 million
  • Retail -1.011 million
  • Professional services -841 thousand
  • Financial services -620 thousand
  • Government -415 thousand
  •  Health care and education +1.469 million

How do things compare to past downturns?


The jobless rate stood at 9.1% in August 2011—down from its peak of 10.1% in October 2009 but still the highest it’s been since 1983.
Moreover, unemployment tends to lag the recovery. After the 1981-1982 recession, it wasn’t until April 1987 that unemployment was back down to 6.3%, the historic annual average rate since 1980.

Who’s been hurt the most?


While the pain has been widespread, some groups have fared worse than others. In August 2011, the jobless rate among African-Americans was 16.7%, versus 8.0% for whites, and the unemployment rate among high-school dropouts was 14.3%, versus just 4.3% for four-year college graduates. Men are also faring slightly worse than women, though not significantly.
For those who lose a job, finding a new one has become harder. In August 2011, the median length of unemployment was 21.8 weeks, versus 8.4 weeks in December 2007. Moreover, more than 1 in 3 workers who are out of a job have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks, compared to less than 1 in 5 in 2007.

Key Facts

Links to Other Resources

Bureau of Labor Statistics—Current Unemployment Rate
Bureau of Labor Statistics—Employment Situation Summary
Bureau of Labor Statistics—Nonfarm payrolls by industry sector