Long-term unemployment rate still sky-high

By Charles Riley, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The number of Americans suffering through long-term unemployment remains stubbornly high, according to a study released Thursday.

More than 30% of the 14 million Americans who were on unemployment rolls in December have been there longer than a year, the Pew Charitable Trusts said, an increase of 25% over last year.

The totals are eye-popping, and translate into more than 4.2 million people, or roughly the total population of Kentucky.

But there is a glimmer of good news, as December's total is a decrease of 200,000 from August 2010.

But for the unemployed, those figures offer little relief. The amount of federal money spent on unemployment insurance benefits is set to decline, according to data from the Congressional Budget Office. Total federal spending on both long- and short-term unemployment benefits will fall to $129 billion in fiscal year 2011, a $30 billion decrease from the previous year.

Among the factors contributing to the decline: The expiration of a $25 weekly supplemental benefit that was part of the Recovery Act, and the fact that benefits are now being denied to people unemployed more than 99 weeks. On a more positive note, another reason spending is expected to fall is increased economic activity, which should cause a general drop in claims.

According to a CNNMoney analysis of federal records, unemployed Americans have collected $319 billion in jobless benefits over the past three years due to the federal government's unprecedented response to the Great Recession.

The Pew analysis indicates the high long-term unemployment rate cuts across nearly every industry, and disproportionately affects older workers.

More than 40% of unemployed workers older than 55 have been out of work for at least a year, according to the study. To top of page

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