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Meltdown 101: A look at U.S. unemployment by the numbers

Associated Press | 2/11/2009, 4:33 a.m.

WASHINGTON — The unemployed population is getting older and more educated as companies ramp up layoffs and the national recession deepens.

The number of unemployed increased by more than 50 percent from January 2008 through last month, but the number of jobless Americans age 55 or older jumped 70 percent, according to Labor Department numbers released last Friday.

And for people with college degrees, the number rose even more sharply, by nearly 85 percent.

The numbers confirmed a trend that job cuts are moving up the age and educational ladders, said Andrew Stettner, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project.

Layoffs are hitting middle managers and professional services firms as the recession enters its 15th month. Stettner said that’s a shift from earlier in the downturn, when job cuts were concentrated in industries like construction, retail and manufacturing, where workers are generally younger and less likely to have college degrees.

Many employers are reluctant to hire older workers, Stettner said, because they may demand higher pay and companies may not want to take a chance with those who are shifting careers.

Age is more of a factor than it has been in previous recessions: Americans over 55 made up 12.8 percent of the 11.6 million unemployed last month, double the proportion in January 1982, when the country was mired in a steep recession. The aging workforce explains part of the difference, but not all, Stettner said. The proportion of older Americans in the labor force has increased by 50 percent since 1982, he said.

Meanwhile, Americans over 55 constituted only 10.6 percent of the unemployed in January 2003. Unemployment peaked that year in the aftermath of the 2001 recession.

Nearly 15 percent of the unemployed have a college degree, up from 13.8 percent in January 2003 and 9.7 percent in January 1993 — another year when unemployment peaked after a recession that ended two years earlier.

The information on age and college education is just a sample of the wealth of information, beyond the headline unemployment rate, that shows up in the Labor Department’s monthly employment report. Here are some more details about who is included in the ranks of the jobless, by the numbers.

Comparing January with past downturns
• 11.6 million: People unemployed in January 2009.
• 11.9 million: People unemployed in November 1982, the final month of the last recession of more than a year.
• 10.8 percent and 111.1 million: Unemployment rate and total workforce in November 1982.
• 7.6 percent and 153.7 million: Unemployment rate and total workforce in January 2009.
• September 1992: Last time the unemployment rate was this high.
• 60.5 percent: Portion of the total population that had jobs in January.
• May 1986: Last time the portion was this low.

January unemployment rate by group

• 7.6 percent: Adult men
• 6.2 percent: Adult women
• 10.3 percent: Female heads of households
• 6.2 percent: Asians
• 6.9 percent: Whites
• 9.7 percent: Hispanics
• 12.6 percent: Blacks