Here is a sentence that I wrote for an academic paper:

... the provision of longer benefit durations in regions of high unemployment creates long-term EI dependency among seasonal workers, which then results in persistent high levels of unemployment in those regions.

Question: Which phrasing is the most idiomatic (correct usage)? My research tells me I should go with C (but my research is based on the graph, google hits, and reading some of the lines on those hits). Is there a reason not to go with C?

  • A. persistent levels of unemployment
  • B. persistent high levels of unemployment
  • C. persistently high levels of unemployment


Let's start with the definition: according to Cambridge, "persistent" (adj) means

lasting for a long time or difficult to get rid of

The intended meaning is that unemployment in those regions stay up high year after year, as seasonal workers don't relocate to other regions for new jobs. They prefer being unemployed in the high-unemployment regions so they can get unemployment benefits for longer durations (benefit durations are shorter in low unemployment regions).

My original phrasing was option A, "persistent levels of unemployment", which turned out to be very unpopular/uncommon. "Level" is like a scale ranging from low to high. I wonder if that is the problem: "persistent" and "level" does not work together.

In google news, there are only

  • A. 4 entries for persistent levels of unemployment

  • B. 11 entries for persistent high levels of unemployment

  • C. 24 entries for persistently high levels of unemployment

Simply looking up google all reveals around 130 entries for all of the above options (google returns around 10,300 entries, but if you click page 15 or so, you will see google revises its estimate to around 130 entries). Provided is an ngram for comparison. One term that is way up higher than all three is just "persistent unemployment" (not in image). I wonder why the green (A) and the red (B) line cross like that.

1 Answer 1


Both "persistent, high level of unemployment" and "persistently high level of unemployment" are idiomatic in the U.S.; you will hear both from educated native speakers. Both cases mean the same thing, namely

Unemployment persists at a high level.

In the first case, "high level of unemployment" is being treated grammatically as a noun phrase that is modified by the adjective "persistent." In the second case, "level" itself is being treated as a noun modified by the adjective "high," which is in turn modified by the adverb "persistently."

As a matter of style, I strongly prefer the second form because "high level" is, on its face, a noun modified by an adjective, and "persistent" is not logically referring to unemployment at all but to its high level. But no one is going to think you are illiterate if you write "persistent, high level of unemployment."

The whole problem goes away, however, if you make the sentence more concise:

persistently high unemployment

is concise, idiomatic, and far more euphonious than

persistent high unemployment.

  • Hi Jeff, this is very informative and helpful. I too prefer the second case (which is C in my options). Why did you write "level" though (instead of its plural)? And I checked "persistently high unemployment", it seems to be the most widely used among all other options (A,B, and C). However, I noticed that more often that not, "persistently high unemployment" is followed by rate/rates. It is great to know that I have this option of wording, I am quite sure I am going to need it soon.
    – AIQ
    Commented Sep 22, 2019 at 4:32
  • 2
    There almost always are many ways to convey the same thought grammatically and idiomatically in English, a fact that is lost sight of in teaching where the options presented usually include a single grammatical example. The choice of ways is a matter of style, which is partly subjective. The word "levels" is economically* correct, but "level" stresses the persistence of a high average level. The presence or absence of "rate" or "rates" would be meaningful only if the population of working-age, competent adults were changing materially. Commented Sep 22, 2019 at 15:37
  • Jeff, thanks for explaining. Again, this is very insightful and helpful.
    – AIQ
    Commented Sep 22, 2019 at 17:56

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