Bernanke's Frightening Charts Showing Unemployment Duration, Long-Term Unemployed (27 Weeks+)

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gave a speech today on the labor market at the National Association for Business Economics Annual Conference and mentioned that the current unemployment situation is worse than any other post-World War II recession. A few charts he provided are actually frightening, see below. I created a new "long-term unemployed" chart that goes back to 1948.

"In this episode, both the median and average durations of unemployment have reached levels far outside the range of experience since World War II (figure 11). And the share of unemployment that represents spells lasting more than six months has been higher than 40 percent since December 2009 (figure 12). By way of comparison, the share of unemployment that was long term in nature never exceeded 25 percent or so in the severe 1981-82 recession."

Source: Federal Reserve

Bernanke then concluded with some "accommodative policy" language (twice) for some risk assets to freebase. AUD/USD rose 0.63% to 1.0526, gold (XAU/USD) spiked 1.04% to 1679, and the March E-Mini S&P future was up 0.68% at 1,403.50.

To sum up: A wide range of indicators suggests that the job market has been improving, which is a welcome development indeed. Still, conditions remain far from normal, as shown, for example, by the high level of long-term unemployment and the fact that jobs and hours worked remain well below pre-crisis peaks, even without adjusting for growth in the labor force. Moreover, we cannot yet be sure that the recent pace of improvement in the labor market will be sustained. Notably, an examination of recent deviations from Okun's law suggests that the recent decline in the unemployment rate may reflect, at least in part, a reversal of the unusually large layoffs that occurred during late 2008 and over 2009. To the extent that this reversal has been completed, further significant improvements in the unemployment rate will likely require a more-rapid expansion of production and demand from consumers and businesses, a process that can be supported by continued accommodative policies.

I also discussed long-term unemployment today, arguing that cyclical rather than structural factors are likely the primary source of its substantial increase during the recession. If this assessment is correct, then accommodative policies to support the economic recovery will help address this problem as well. We must watch long-term unemployment especially carefully, however. Even if the primary cause of high long-term unemployment is insufficient aggregate demand, if progress in reducing unemployment is too slow, the long-term unemployed will see their skills and labor force attachment atrophy further, possibly converting a cyclical problem into a structural one.

If this hypothesis is wrong and structural factors are in fact explaining much of the increase in long-term unemployment, then the scope for countercyclical policies to address this problem will be more limited. Even if that proves to be the case, however, we should not conclude that nothing can be done. If structural factors are the predominant explanation for the increase in long-term unemployment, it will become even more important to take the steps needed to ensure that workers are able to obtain the skills needed to meet the demands of our rapidly changing economy."

Read the full speech here. Also, check out another frightening chart that was posted at the New York Fed's blog (h/t zerohedge) showing "labor market indicators in recent recoveries". The second chart shows the long-term unemployed (27 weeks+) as a percentage of the total unemployed going back to 1948 (same one as Bernanke's, but earlier).

Source: New York Fed

Long-Term Unemployed as % of Total Unemployed (St. Louis Fed)

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