File photo of case worker Jessica Yon with unemployed people in San Francisco
Case worker Jessica Yon discusses job eligibility for unemployed people at a jobs center in San Francisco, California in this February 4, 2010 file photo. REUTERS

There are now five unemployed workers for every job opening in the U.S., according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a Washington D.C.-based think tank.

Heidi Shierholz, an economist at EPI, cited data released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics which showed that job openings decreased by 163,000 in September, while downward revisions to earlier data indicate there were 109,000 fewer job openings in August than previously reported.

The total number of job openings in September amounted to 2.9 million, while the total number of unemployed workers totaled 14.8 million.

“This means that the ratio of unemployed workers to job openings was 5.0-to-1 in September, an increase from the revised August ratio of 4.8-to-1,” said Shierholz.

“The job-seekers ratio is displaying a similar trend to other labor market data -- substantial improvements from late 2009 to the spring of 2010, and then stalling out what are still crisis levels. September’s value, at 5-to-1, is over three times as high as [in] the first half of 2007, when the ratio averaged 1.5-to-1.”

Shierholz adds that one should keep in mind that the job-seekers ratio does not measure the number of applicants for each job. “There may be throngs of applicants for every job posting, since job=seekers apply for multiple jobs,” she explained.

“Instead, the 5-to-1 ratio means that for every five unemployed workers, there is only one job available -- or for every four out of five unemployed workers, there simply are no jobs.”

Moreover, she said, when calculating the ratio of job=seekers to job openings, if one were to include not just the 14.8 million unemployed workers, but also the 9.5 million “involuntarily part-time” workers (part-time workers who want and are available for a full-time job, and are therefore likely job searching), the ratio would be 8.3-to-1.

“With so many unemployed workers per available job, it is no surprise that workers who have been laid off continue to get stuck in unemployment for very long periods,” she noted.

Indeed, in September, 41.7 percent of this country’s unemployed workers had been unemployed for over six months, the maximum amount of time a worker who has been laid off can receive regular state benefits.

On November 30, the federally funded extended unemployment insurance benefits are set to expire.