America’s Biggest Problem? Unemployment

By Allison Linn
|  Friday, Feb 11, 2011  |  Updated 2:45 PM PDT
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America’s Biggest Problem? Unemployment

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Unemployment – and not the economy in general – ranked as the most important problem facing Americans for the second month in a row.

Now it's the job market, stupid.

Unemployment — and not the economy in general — ranked as the most important problem facing Americans for the second month in a row, according to a Gallup poll released Friday.

When asked to name the biggest problem facing the country, Gallup poll found that 35 percent of Americans said “unemployment.”

That’s the highest percentage in more than a quarter century, since October of 1983.

The economy ranked second, with 29 percent of Americans saying it was the most important problem facing the country. Healthcare was third, and dissatisfaction with the government ranked fourth.

The fact that joblessness now worries people more than the economy in general marks a change from the early part of the economic downturn, when “the economy” was consistently mentioned as the top problem facing the country.

In the past year, the economy and unemployment have each sometimes ranked as the top problem in the monthly survey. But the Gallup pollsters said this month’s results clearly show that Americans seem most worried about getting people back to work.

Related: Back at work after years on the sidelines

Althought the unemployment rate has improved in the past couple of months, it remains at 9 percent, well above historical norms, with about 14 million Americans looking for work.

Those figures don’t tell the whole story. In addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says more than 8 million people are working part-time but would rather be working full-time.

Another 1 million people are classified as “discouraged workers,” which means they would like to look for work but don’t think there’s a job out there for them.

It is also taking unemployed workers a long time to find a new job. The average duration of unemployment stood at 36.9 weeks in January, the highest level since at least 1948.

Many economists believe the economy will continue to slowly add jobs this year, but the unemployment rate could remain higher than average for several years.

The Gallup poll was based on a phone survey of 1,000 people, conducted earlier this month.

Follow me on Twitter @alinnmsnbc

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