Countdown to a new job ... 211 days

By Jessica Dickler, staff writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- It's no wonder unemployed workers are getting discouraged: It's never taken longer to find a new job.

The unemployment rate fell to 9.7% in January, its lowest level since August. But the duration of unemployment reached an all-time high, according to the Labor Department's data, which dates back to 1948.

"While there are some positive signs in the jobs report, it's going to take time for the economy to recover and for hiring to pick up so people can get back to work," said Christine Riordan, a policy analyst with the National Employment Law Project.

Job seekers are now out of work for an average of 30.2 weeks, or 7-1/2 months, up from a record high of 29.1 weeks the previous month. In fact, the average duration of unemployment has notched new records for the last 10 months in a row.

With more than six job seekers for every job opening, it's not surprising that it's taking that long to find work, said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a research group based in Washington. "It's a very cruel game of musical chairs."

The danger though, is that more job seekers are at risk of seeing their unemployment benefits run out, which generally last up to 26 weeks before federal extensions kick in.

According to NELP's estimates, 11.5 million Americans are currently collecting some form of unemployment insurance but 1.2 million of those workers will no longer be eligible to collect as of March, when the current federal extensions are set to expire.

Unless Congress extends the unemployment safety net from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which is slated to expire at the end of the month, it will be increasingly hard to extricate ourselves from "a very, very deep jobs hole," NELP's Riordan said.

Overall, the Labor Department reported a loss of 20,000 in January -- much worse than expected. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com had expected a net gain of 15,000 jobs. The economy has lost 8.4 million jobs since the start of the recession in December 2007. To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 18,232.02 -53.72 -0.29%
Nasdaq 5,089.36 -1.43 -0.03%
S&P 500 2,126.06 0.00 0.00%
Treasuries 2.22 0.03 1.37%
Data as of 8:12am ET
Company Price Change % Change
Microsoft Corp 46.90 0.00 0.00%
Frontier Communicati... 5.06 0.10 2.08%
American Airlines Gr... 42.61 0.27 0.64%
Quest Diagnostics In... 79.60 5.72 7.74%
Applied Materials In... 20.14 -0.01 -0.05%
Data as of May 22
Sponsors

Sections

Malaysia Airlines is nearly finished with its tough restructuring plan -- which will include cutting about one-third of its workforce -- in its efforts to recover after two plane tragedies last year. More

The True Cost, a new documentary, chronicles the evils of the clothing industry and asks us to stop buying so much cheap stuff More

Jony Ive, longtime design chief at Apple, will move to the newly created position of Chief Design Officer to work on 'new ideas and future initiatives' as well as current design products. More

Sarah Kauss launched S'well to rid the world of plastic water bottles. In five years, she's sold 4 million of her stainless steel bottles. More