CHICAGO, Sept. 16 (UPI) -- The number of middle managers and salaried workers who have been out of work for at least 27 weeks reached a 20-year high last month, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an international outplacement firm.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks U.S. unemployment, says about 1.5 million workers have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more, 81 percent higher than a year ago.
John Challenger, chief executive officer of the Chicago-based recruitment specialist, said higher-paid workers were having a harder time finding new jobs and that troubling trend could only hurt the economic recovery.
The U.S. unemployment rate fell from 5.9 percent in July to 5.7 percent in August, lowest in four months.
But Challenger said that contrary to popular belief, long-term joblessness has not been confined to unskilled and semi-skilled labor and service occupations, like factory workers or retail clerks. Only 20 percent of the long-term jobless were laborers, operators or fabricators, and just 13 percent were employed in the service industry.
Nearly half, or 48 percent, of the long-term unemployed were categorized as managerial and professional specialists or sales, technical, and administrative support. This was the highest level since the BLS began tracking occupational data for long-term joblessness in 1982.
"The continuation of prolonged joblessness may be the straw that finally breaks the back of consumer spending, which has thus far been the sole bright spot in a weakened economy," Challenger said Monday.
Challenger said middle managers and administrators with non-specific skills were having longer job searches because of the economic slowdown, corporate downsizing, mergers, accounting scandals and bankruptcies. Many companies concerned about the bottom line are looking to restructure, hire from within or simply not fill open positions rather than recruit outside candidates.
"Additionally, with so many of these workers in the labor market, the competition for a limited number of jobs is significantly greater," he said.
In some cases, job seekers themselves were contributing to the length of their searches because of uncertainty in a post-Sept. 11 world.
"We are seeing fewer job seekers who are willing to relocate in order to take a position," Challenger said. "They want to stay close to friends and family as well as to their network of professional contacts."