White House announces $170M push to help long-term unemployed

White House officials announced $170 million in government grants and partnerships on Wednesday aimed at helping the long-term unemployed get back to work.

The funding will go toward programs in 20 states, including apprenticeship programs; career services opportunities with dozens of national companies; mental health options; and early education programs; among other resources, White House officials said.

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The move comes as President Obama looks to spotlight his effort to fight long-term unemployment as polls suggest Americans' frustration with the pace of the economic recovery and his policies.

Vice president Joe BidenJoe BidenTechnology can be used to bridge the gap between doctor’s visits Top Dem: Cures bill funding cut to B Yes, this election will change America forever MORE and Labor Secretary Thomas PerezThomas E. PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE will meet Wednesday with business leaders to discuss the programs.

"There are too many people who want to work that haven't been able to find a job," said Jeff Zients, director of the National Economic Council, in a conference call with reporters.

The unemployment rate fell to 5.9 percent in September, a six-year low, the Labor Department reported earlier this month. But nearly 32 percent of the unemployed — about 3 million workers — have been jobless for at least six months. 

The share of jobless workers who are long-term unemployed hit 45 percent during the worst part of the recession and has taken years to finally drop to this level. 

In the past year, the number of the long-term unemployed has dropped 1.2 million but it still remains elevated and historically high, according to White House officials.

Meanwhile, the number of Americans participating in the economy decreased last month to 62.7 percent — the lowest level since 1978. 

The numbers have declined partly because workers have become so discouraged they are leaving the labor force and the longer someone is out of a job the harder it is to find employment. 

"We are making progress, the recovery is reaching the long-term unemployed but it's not nearly as fast as the president wants it to and it's not nearly as fast as the long-term unemployed needs it to," said Perez in a call with reporters.

Vicki Needham contributed.