The unemployment rate continues to edge downward, falling to 8.5% as the private sector continues to add jobs. It was the sixth consecutive month in which the economy added at least 100,000 jobs.
The economy's payrolls increased by 200,000 in December, the U.S. Labor Department reported Friday. The data surpassed economists' expectations and mark a six-month stretch in which the economy generated 100,000 jobs or more in each month.
The nation's jobless rate slipped to 8.5 percent, its lowest level since February 2009 and down from a revised 8.7 percent reading for the previous month, adding to the upbeat tone of the monthly report.
[ ... ]
The closely watched employment report will likely cement views that economic growth accelerated in the fourth quarter after a tepid performance in the first nine months of 2011. However, the pace of job creation remains too slow to signal a robust economic recovery is finally under way.
The economy would need even faster job growth over a sustained period to make a noticeable dent in the pool of 24.4 million Americans who remain either out of work or underemployed 2-1/2 years after the end of the 2007-09 recession.
An improvement in the U.S. labor market is crucial for global markets because American consumer spending accounts for a fifth of the world's economic activity. A recovery in the U.S. would also mitigate the impact of the sharp slowdown in Europe.
Place your bets now on which way the GOP will choose to spin this news...will they try to take credit for the development, or will they try to dismiss it as irrelevant?
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(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama, center, shakes hand with Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., left, and Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta, right, at a news briefing on the defense strategic guidance at the Pentagon, Thursday, Jan., 5, 2012. Looking on are Sec. of the Army John McHugh, far left, and Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos, far right.
Yesterday, President Obama crossed the Potomac River to hold a press conference at the Pentagon, the first time a president has addressed reporters from the military?s headquarters. Flanked by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey, and other senior military leaders, the president introduced the findings of a nine-month review of U.S. military strategy that will guide how the Pentagon allocates defense dollars as military spending slows following a decade of war.
The review, which calls for a leaner, more agile military and a shift in focus from the wars in the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region, carries great strategic and political import. Any defense analyst worth his or her bullets will tell you that budget decisions should follow strategic priorities, never the other way around. Choices arrived at in the opposite direction are tarred as ?math, not strategy.?
The problem is that since the end of the Cold War, U.S. military strategy has tended to be all math, in the sense that missions and priorities just keep getting added without subtracting others. As former Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen put it, the post-9-11 money spigot for defense ?hasn?t forced us to prioritize ? It hasn?t forced us to do the analysis. And it hasn?t forced us to limit ourselves and get to a point or deciding, in a very turbulent world, what we?re going to do and what we?re not going to do.? Yesterday?s strategy document was a first attempt to do just that.
Before exploring the specifics of the new strategy, defense ?cuts? must be put into context. Despite the protestations of some members of Congress?complaints echoed by all the presidential candidates polling above single digits?the ?cuts? are really just reductions in the rate of growth. The Budget Control Act mandates $489 billion less in spending over the next 10 years than Pentagon projections anticipated. That?s roughly an eight percent reduction from projected spending.
If the so-called ?sequester??automatically triggered cuts agreed to late last year as part of the debt-ceiling deal between Republicans and Democrats in Congress?takes effect, an additional $500 billion may be required, although that scenario is unlikely. Administration officials, Panetta foremost among them, have howled that such cuts would amount to doomsday for U.S. national security, even though they would only bring the Pentagon budget back to where it was in 2007. As Gordon Adams of the Stimson Center has written, a $1 trillion reduction would still be smaller than any of the last three post-war ?build-downs.?
Right now the White House and Pentagon are planning only for the former scenario. Yesterday?s announcement gave the strategic outlines for how the Pentagon would implement those reductions without jeopardizing national security, while specifics on the numbers and affected programs won?t be released until the official budget drops next month.
So what does the strategy say?
The document flows from this question, posed by President Obama in his speech: ?What kind of military will we need after the long wars of the last decade are over?? The answer, according to Panetta, is a force that?s ?smaller and leaner, but will be agile, flexible, ready and technologically advanced.? That means reductions in the size of the Army and Marines, reportedly almost back down to pre-9/11 levels.
It also signals that the U.S. is in no hurry to engage in another extended occupation like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, this marks a move away from the counterinsurgency operations of the last decade. Instead, America will build a military poised to respond quickly to events around the world. The operation in Libya and even the raid that killed Osama bin Laden serve as models for this strategy. To be sure, we will retain the capability to project force for long-term operations if our vital interest are at stake, but such operations will be the exception, not the rule.
The strategy does not call for less everywhere. In fact, it explicitly calls for a ?pivot? that would increase resources in Asia while still retaining a large presence in the Middle East. That shift would highlight naval and airpower over ground forces. Given the scarcity of resources, changes will likely include a redeployment of about a third of U.S. forces currently stationed in Europe. Broadly, the shift toward Asia shows an understanding that the center of gravity in global politics has shifted towards the Western Pacific.
Critics of this broader rebalancing will read it as an abandonment of the ?two-war strategy,? or the doctrine that the American military needs to be large enough to fight two big regional wars at once. But as Mark Thompson at Time has noted, that strategy has been untenable since World War II, and was disproven as recently as the last decade, when deciding to invade Iraq doomed the Afghan war to failure.
On the weapons-buying front, Obama characterized the approach as getting rid of ?outdated Cold War-era systems so that we can invest in the capabilities we need for the future.? The strategy adds that ?deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force.? Which part of the nuclear complex would come under the scalpel remains unclear, though. In explaining the strategy, Pentagon officials demurred on the question of whether any leg of the nuclear triad?submarines, land-based missiles and bombers?would come under serious consideration for cuts. Early reports also float delaying the production of the troubled F-35 fighter jet program.
Opponents of the new strategy will surely call this winnowing of priorities a ?hollowing? of the military, a term that originally referred to forces that are numerous but lack training or proper equipment. The term has recently been appropriated as general pushback against any cuts to the military budget and in the process lost much of its meaning. Countering that charge, the strategy explicitly commits to ?resist the temptation to sacrifice readiness in order to maintain force structure.? In other words, the U.S. will maintain a smaller, well-trained, well-equipped force instead of building a bigger but less effective one.
Finally, and probably most important, the strategy recognizes the need to look beyond traditional military solutions in order to manage the complex threats of the future. This includes strengthening diplomacy, development, intelligence and homeland security?as well as recognizing that American strength flows from our economic prowess. Broadening the scope of what?s considered defense makes sense, both because the world has changed, and because conflict prevention and diplomatic solutions are cost-effective.
There?s no doubt this blueprint for military spending reform will upset various interest groups with a stake in maintaining the status quo. But as Joint Chiefs Chairman Dempsey put it yesterday, America has no choice, as ?we could face even greater risks if we didn?t change our approach.?
By Jeff Clark, Casey Research
After all, in spite of some short-term fixes, there remains no real resolution to the sovereign debt issues in many European countries. We’re certainly not spending less money in the US, and now we’re bailing out Europe via currency swaps with the European Central Bank. Shouldn’t gold be rising?
Yes, but nothing happens in a vacuum. There are some simple explanations as to why gold remains in a funk.The MF Global bankruptcy, the seventh-largest in US history, forced a high degree of liquidation of commodities futures contracts, including gold. Many institutional investors had to sell whether they wanted to or not. This is similar to why big declines in the stock market can . . . → Read More: Why Has Gold Been Down?
I guarantee you he's rethinking the decision after thisNow get off my lawn!
This is great news for Pres. Obama and most importantly, the country and people who have been struggling trying to find employment for months. December was the sixth straight month that 100,000 jobs were added, the first time this has happened in six[...]
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The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the private sector generated 212,000 jobs in December and the official unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent. It was the best job creation showing since April 2011 and the best jobless rate since February 2009. The numbers are seasonally adjusted. The number of officially unemployed is now 13.1 million with 5.6 million of those unemployed for six months or longer. Both the civilian labor force participation rate at 64 percent and the employment-population ratio at 58.5 percent were unchanged over the last month. About 50,000 Americans left the labor force in December.
If job creation were to continue at this level, it would take until July 2014 to return to the number of Americans who were employed in December 2007 when the recession started.
Revisions for payroll employment in October raised the numbers from 100,000 to 112,000 and for November lowered them from 120,000 to 100,000.
An alternative measure of unemployment called U6 includes part-time workers who want full-time work and some but not all of the millions of people who have become too discouraged to look for work. That number fell from 15.6 percent to 15.2 percent.
Here's what the numbers looked like for the most recent five Decembers:
December 2007: + 84,000
December 2008: -619,000
December 2009: -130,000
December 2010: +152,000
December 2011: +200,000
In the past 12 months, the best previous increases reported by the BLS were 210,000 in September, 217,000 in April and 235,000 in February.
Expectations had increased somewhat Thursday when ADP reported 325,000 private sector jobs had been created. Why such a gap between ADP and the BLS? Year-end reporting by ADP may reflect an accounting adjustment that has overstated job gains in the past.
The BLS jobs report is the product of a pair of surveys, one of business establishments and the Current Population Survey of households. The establishment survey determines how many new jobs were added. The CPS provides data that determine the official "headline" unemployment rate, also known as U3. That's the number that fell to 8.5 percent.
[Mesirow Financial chief economist Diane Swonk expects] the December report to be better than those in some of the coming months, as Europe?s debt crisis continues and Washington budget and tax talks come back into focus.
?I?m looking at a slowdown in growth as we move into 2012 from the fourth quarter? we?ve gotten an uneven recovery that?s accelerating. That?s kind of like ?a glass half full,?? she said. ?I think we?re going to have some rocky months ahead. I think we?re going to have a slowdown in growth in the first half of the year with Europe still volatile, wreaking havoc on the stock market. Keeping volatility high just keeps people gun shy from hiring more.?
?If we can get between 100,000 and 200,000 (monthly nonfarm payrolls) for the whole year, that would make me extremely happy,? she said.
One aspect of newly created jobs that don't get much play in the media is wages. And there the news has not been particularly good:
Trying to persuade locked-out workers in Canada to accept a sharp cut in pay, Caterpillar Inc. is citing lower wages elsewhere. But instead of pointing to the usual models of cheap and pliant labor, such as China or Mexico, it is using a more surprising example: the U.S.
Wage and benefit costs at a Caterpillar rail-equipment plant in LaGrange, Ill., are less than half of those at the company's locomotive-assembly plant in London, Ontario, Caterpillar says.
The big equipment maker's stance illustrates how U.S. manufacturing, until recently given up for dead by many Americans, has become more competitive globally. Though the U.S. is hardly a low-wage country, it has become much more efficient, making it more attractive for global manufacturers. U.S. wage growth has been minimal, and manufacturers have found ways to use more-flexible work practices and increased automation to make the same amount of goods with far fewer people.
Among the details in the report today:
? Employment in the retail trade rose 28,000
? Transportation and warehousing rose 50,000
? Leisure and hospitality rose 24,000
? Mining rose 7000
? Professional and business services
? Health care rose 23,000
? Manufacturing rose 23,000
? Government employment fell 12,000
? The average workweek for production and non-supervisory workers rose to 34.4 hours.
? The average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 4 cents to $23.24.
To get a better handle on the BLS monthly job report, I urge you to read my post, Some advice on reading the numbers.
The President made some brief remarks at the Pentagon during the introduction of the new "austerity" defense budget. He stressed that the US will still have the most powerful fighting force in the world, that even after the cuts the defense budget would[...]
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Yesterday USAToday reported that Obama "is putting his personal stamp on a rejiggered Pentagon strategy for absorbing hundreds of billions of dollars in defense budget cuts, marking a turning point in U.S. security policy after a decade of war." Too good to be true?
At basically the same time that Obama was at the Pentagon talking about streamlining the military in an era of tighter budgets and reassessing defense priorities in light of China's rise, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was meeting with his new British counterpart, Philip Hammond, to discuss scaling down their military capability and backing "away from the kind of armed intervention they have enthusiastically supported in recent decades." This isn't about kumbaya or idealism... it's the bottom line.
As the US plans to withdraw more troops from Europe in what is building up to be a turning point in transatlantic relations, Hammond will also lambast European members of Nato for not pulling their weight.
With Panetta expected to announce sweeping cuts in his defence budget, Hammond will point to similarities in the US and UK economic situations, according to officials. "Without strong economies and stable public finances it is impossible to build and sustain, in the long-term, the military capability required to project power and maintain defence," he is expected to tell the Atlantic Council thinktank.
He will add: "That is why today the debt crisis should be considered the greatest strategic threat to the future security of our nations. The fact is, in this era of austerity... not even the United States can afford the astronomical resource commitment required to deal with every threat from every source."
On Thursday, Panetta is expected to announce the results of a Pentagon strategic review, recommending that the US abandon its traditional goal of being able to fight, and win, two wars at the same time. The Pentagon has been asked for cuts of $400bn.
British defence officials are worried that pressures on the US budget will further encourage Washington to turn its back on Europe as it concentrates on potential threats in the Pacific.
Libya showed that while the US took a back seat-- its aircraft were not involved in the air strikes-- the Europeans nevertheless relied on US planes for refuelling and intelligence-gathering operations.
"Libya and Afghanistan have highlighted the significant difficulties we face in ensuring Nato continues to serve the needs of collective security," Hammond will say. "Too many countries are failing to meet their financial responsibilities to Nato, and so failing to maintain appropriate and proportionate capabilities. Too many are opting out of operations, or contributing but a fraction of what they should be capable of.
"This is a European problem, not an American one. And it is a political problem, not a military one."
The defence secretary is not expected to name names, though officials make it clear that he has Germany and Poland (neither of which played a part in the Libyan conflict) in mind, as well as Spain.
The administration and Congress already are trimming defense spending to reflect the closeout of the Iraq war and the drawdown in Afghanistan. The massive $662 billion defense budget planned for next year is $27 billion less than Obama wanted and $43 billion less than Congress gave the Pentagon this year.
...Factors guiding the Obama administration's approach to reducing the defense budget are not limited to war-fighting strategy. They also include judgments about how to contain the growing cost of military health care, pay and retirement benefits. The administration is expected to form a commission to study the issue of retirement benefits, possibly led by a prominent retired military officer.
The administration is in the final stages of deciding specific cuts in the 2013 budget, which Obama will submit to Congress next month. The strategy to be announced by Panetta and Dempsey is meant to accommodate about $489 billion in defense cuts over the coming 10 years, as called for in a budget deal with Congress last summer. An additional $500 billion in cuts may be required starting in January 2013.
A prominent theme of the Pentagon's new strategy is expected to be what Panetta has called a renewed commitment to security in the Asia-Pacific region.
On a trip to Asia last fall, Panetta made clear that the region will be central to American security strategy.
"Today we are at a turning point after a decade of war," Panetta said in Japan. Al-Qaeda is among a range of concerns that will keep the military busy, but as a traditional Pacific power the United States needs to build a wider and deeper network of alliances and partnerships in that region, he said.
"Most importantly, we have the opportunity to strengthen our presence in the Pacific-- and we will," he said.
The administration is not anticipating military conflict in Asia, but Panetta believes the U.S. got so bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11 that it missed chances to improve its position in other regions.
China is a particular worry because of its economic dynamism and rapid defense buildup. A more immediate concern is Iran, not only for its threats to disrupt the flow of international oil but also for its nuclear ambitions.
Looming large over the defense budget debate is the prospect of reducing spending on nuclear weapons.
Thomas Collina, research director at the Arms Control Association, believes the U.S. nuclear program can cut $45 billion over the coming decade without weakening the force. He estimates that reducing the U.S. strategic nuclear submarine force from 12 subs to eight could save $27 billion over 10 years. A further $18 billion could be saved by delaying the building of a new fleet of nuclear-capable bomber aircraft, he says.
The 20th century, it?s said, taught us a simple lesson about politics: of all the motivations for political action, none is as lethal as ideology. The lust for money may be distasteful, the desire for power ignoble, but neither will drive its devotees to the criminal excess of an idea on the march. Whether the idea is the triumph of the working class or of a master race, ideology leads to the graveyard.
Although liberal-minded intellectuals have repeatedly mobilised some version of this argument against the isms of right and left, they have seldom mustered a comparable scepticism about that other idée fixe of the 20th century: national security. Some liberals will criticise this war, others that one, but no one has ever written a book entitled The End of National Security. This despite the millions killed in the name of security, and even though Stalin and Hitler claimed to be protecting their populations from mortal threats.
There are fewer than six degrees of separation between the idea of national security and the lurid crimes of Abu Ghraib. First, each of the reasons the Bush administration gave for going to war against Iraq-- the threat of WMD, Saddam?s alleged links to al-Qaida, even the promotion of democracy in the Middle East-- referred in some way to protecting America. Second, everyone agrees that getting good intelligence from Iraqi informers is a critical element in defeating the insurgency. Third, US military intelligence believes that sexual humiliation is an especially forceful instrument for extracting information from recalcitrant Muslim prisoners.
Many critics have protested against Abu Ghraib, but none has traced it back to the idea of national security. Perhaps they believe such an investigation is unnecessary. After all, many of them opposed the war on the grounds that US security was not threatened by Iraq. And some of national security?s most accomplished practitioners, such as Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, as well as theoreticians like Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer, even claimed that a genuine consideration of US interests militated against the war. The mere fact that some politicians misused or abused the principle of national security need not call that principle into question. But when an idea routinely accompanies, if not induces, atrocities-- Abu Ghraib was certainly not the first instance of the United States committing or sponsoring torture in the name of security-- second thoughts would seem to be in order. Unless, of course, defenders of the idea wish to join that company of ideologues they so roundly condemn, affirming their commitment to an ideal version of national security while disowning its ?actually existing? variant.
In its ideal version, national security requires a clear-eyed understanding of a nation?s interests and a sober assessment of the threats to them. Force, a counsellor might say to his prince, is a tool a leader may use in response to those threats, but he should use it prudently and without emotion. Just as he should not trouble himself with questions of human rights or international law ? though analysts might add these to a leader?s toolkit, they are quick to point out, as Joseph Nye does in The Paradox of American Power (2002), that international norms may have to give way to ?vital survival interests?, that ?at times we will have to go it alone?-- he should not be excited by his use of violence. National security demands a monkish self-denial, where officials forego the comforts of conscience and the pleasures of impulse in order to inflict when necessary the most brutal force and abstain from or abandon that force whenever it becomes counter-productive. It?s an ethos that bears all the marks of a creed, requiring a mortification of self no less demanding than that expected of the truest Christian.
The first article of this creed, the national interest, gives leaders great wiggle room in determining what constitutes a threat. What, after all, is the national interest? According to Nye, ?the national interest is simply what citizens, after proper deliberation, say it is.? Even if we assume that citizens are routinely given the opportunity to ponder the national interest, the fact is that they seldom, if ever, reach a conclusion about it. As Nye points out, Peter Trubowitz?s exhaustive study of the way Americans defined the national interest throughout the 20th century concluded that ?there is no single national interest. Analysts who assume that America has a discernible national interest whose defence should determine its relations with other nations are unable to explain the failure to achieve domestic consensus on international objectives.? And this makes a good deal of sense: if an individual finds it difficult to determine her own interest, why should we expect a mass of individuals to do any better?
But if a people cannot decide on its collective interest, how can it know when that interest is threatened? Faced with such confusion, leaders often fall back on what seems the most obvious definition of a threat: imminent, violent assault from an enemy, promising to end the independent life of the nation. Leaders focus on cataclysmic futures, if for no other reason than that these are a convenient measure of what is or is not a threat, what is or is not security. But that ultimate threat often turns out to be no less illusory than the errant definition inspiring the invocation of the threat in the first place.
Hovering about every discussion of war and peace are questions of life and death. Not the death of some or even many people, but as Michael Walzer proposes in Arguing about War, the ?moral as well as physical extinction? of an entire people. True, it is only rarely that a nation will find its ?ongoingness?-- its ability ?to carry on, and also to improve on, a way of life handed down? from its ancestors-- threatened. But at moments of what Walzer, following Winston Churchill, calls ?supreme emergency?, a leader may have to commit the most obscene crimes in order to avert catastrophe. The deliberate murder of innocents, the use of torture: the measures taken will be as many and almost as terrible as the evils a nation hopes to thwart.
For obvious reasons, Walzer insists that leaders should be wary of invoking the supreme emergency, that they must have real evidence before they start speaking Churchillese. But a casual reading of the history of national security suggests not only that in practice the rules of evidence will be ignored or flouted, but that the notion of catastrophe encourages, even insists on, the flouting.
?In normal affairs,? Richelieu declared at the dawn of the modern state system, ?the administration of justice requires authentic proofs; but it is not the same in affairs of state . . . There, urgent conjecture must sometimes take the place of proof; the loss of the particular is not comparable with the salvation of the state.? As we ascend the ladder of threats from petty crime to the destruction of the state, we require less and less proof that those threats are real. The consequences of underestimating serious threats are so great we may have no choice but to overestimate them. Three centuries later, the American jurist Learned Hand invoked a version of this rule, claiming that ?the gravity of the ?evil?? should be ?discounted by its improbability?. The graver the evil, the higher the degree of improbability we demand in order not to worry about it. The graver the evil, the lower the degree of probability that authorises-- or permits-- us to take pre-emptive action against it.
Lawmakers across the nation pursued a record number of reproductive health and rights-related provisions in 2011, a new report from the Guttmacher Institute finds, enacting 135 measures in 36 states — “an increase from the 89 enacted in 2010 and the 77 enacted in 2009.” Sixty-eight percent of the provisions — 92 in 24 states — restricted access to abortion services:
Here is a sampling of 2011 in abortion law:
– Bans: The most high-profile state-level abortion debate of 2011 took place in Mississippi, where voters rejected the ballot initiative that would have legally defined a human embryo as a person ?from the moment of fertilization,? setting the stage to ban all abortions and, potentially, most hormonal contraceptive methods in the state. Meanwhile, five states (AL, ID, IN, KS and OK) enacted provisions to ban abortion at or beyond 20 weeks? gestation.
– Waiting Periods: Three states adopted waiting period requirements for a woman seeking an abortion. In the most egregious of the waiting-period provisions, a new South Dakota law would have required a woman to obtain pre-abortion counseling in person at the abortion facility at least 72 hours prior to the procedure; it would also have required her to visit a state-approved crisis pregnancy center during that 72-hour interval.
– Ultrasound: Five states adopted provisions mandating that a woman obtain an ultrasound prior to having an abortion. The two most stringent provisions were adopted in North Carolina and Texas and were immediately enjoined by federal district courts. Both of these restrictions would have required the provider to show and describe the image to the woman.
– Insurance Coverage: Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Utah adopted provisions prohibiting all insurance policies in the state from covering abortion except in cases of life endangerment; they all permit individuals to purchase additional coverage at their own expense. These new restrictions bring to eight the number of states limiting abortion coverage in all private insurance plans.
– Clinic Regulations: Four states enacted provisions directing the state department of health to issue regulations governing facilities and physicians? offices that provide abortion services. A new provision in Virginia requires a facility providing at least five abortions per month to meet the requirements for a hospital in the state. New requirements in Kansas, Pennsylvania and Utah direct the health agency to develop standards for abortion providers.
Nine states also passed laws making it harder to avoid pregnancy in the first place. Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Washington, Wisconsin, Montana, New Hampshire, and Texas reduced funding for family planning programs, with the Lone Star State reducing its reproductive health budget by as much as 66 percent. Indiana, Colorado, Ohio, North Carolina Texas and Wisconsin, meanwhile, “moved to disqualify or otherwise bar certain types of providers from the receipt of family planning funds” and “New Hampshire decided not to renew its contract through which the Planned Parenthood affiliate in the state received Title X funds.”
According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy created 200,000 jobs last month, and the unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent. The private sector added 212,000 jobs, while the public sector lost 12,000. The wider U-6 measure of underemployment fell to 15.2 percent, as did the percentage of unemployed workers who have been out of work for six months or more, which stands at 42.5 percent.