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Labor Day 2012: Unemployment Remains a Struggle, Especially for Long-Term Unemployed

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Labor Day honors workers after labor protestors were killed in a railroad strike over wages and work hours in 1894. The protests began in Pullman, Ill. and spread across the country. This Labor Day, unemployment remains a concern not just for the labor movement but the entire country.

The median duration of unemployed persons is 16.7 weeks, according to the most recent data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for July 2012. The figure has been improving but the long-term unemployment remains a widespread challenge to the recovering economy.

Over 5.1 million people have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more, according to July 2012 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released in August.

There have been the most number of U.S. jobs lost in local government and education, according to the Labor Department: 77,000 jobs or 1 percent of those jobs. There have been 38,000, or 1.3 percent, lost jobs from the federal government.

Younger workers continually face labor challenges. The unemployment rate for those ages 20 to 24 is 61.7 percent according to BLS data for January released in August. Economists stress that "the discouraged worker effect" can skew unemployment rates to appear smaller than they actually are because those who have given up looking for work have been are considered not in the labor force.

The health care sector has seen some of the biggest increases in jobs: up 299,000 or an increase of 2.1 percent from July 2011 to July 2012.

Job losses from contracting and closing establishments are down relative to pre-recession levels. "Companies are already lean," said Stephen Bronars, chief economist with Welch Consulting. "The weak companies have already failed. Job gains are coming back for growing companies but they are still below pre-recession levels."

All eyes will be on the Labor Department's monthly unemployment report on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, including both political parties, for fodder in examining the state of the U.S. economy before November's presidential election. If and how the unemployment rate of 8.2 percent changes before November could determine the election, some political analysts say.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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