Recent months have brought positive signs for the long-term unemployed, allaying fears that the US would face a "structural unemployment" problem, with legions of perpetually unemployable people. The long-jobless shrunk to 39.1% of all job seekers in December, the first time the number has dipped below 40% in three years, the Wall Street Journal reports. "They've been the ones getting the jobs," observes one economist. Indeed, in the past year 843,000 have left the ranks of the unemployed, and 830,000 of those have been longtime members (defined as those out of work for at least six months).
That's not to suggest that everything is wonderful. There are still 4.8 million Americans classified as long-term jobless, down from a peak of 6.5 million in 2010 but still higher than at any point post-World War II. What's more, many are returning to lower-paying jobs; each year out of work equates to an average 11% drop in pay upon return to the workforce. "You say the job market's getting better," says one 51-year-old now working as a grocery cashier. "Yeah, for these $8.25-an-hour jobs." (Read more jobless stories.)