WASHINGTON – Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Wednesday that long-term unemployment is a “national crisis” and suggested that Congress should take further action to combat it. He also said lawmakers should provide more help to the battered housing industry.

Bernanke noted that 45 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for at least six months.

“This is unheard of,” he said in a question-and-answer session after a speech in Cleveland. “This has never happened in the post-war period in the United States. They are losing the skills they had, they are losing their connections, their attachment to the labor force.”

He added: “The unemployment situation we have, the job situation, is really a national crisis.”

Bernanke said the government needs to provide support to help the long-term unemployed retrain for jobs and find work. And he suggested that Congress should take more responsibility.

Responding to a question, Bernanke said long-term unemployment, budgetary discipline and housing policy were the three most important areas where Congress could contribute to an economic recovery.

Bernanke’s comments were his latest in a public effort to get Congress to act further to rejuvenate the economy. He suggested that the Fed can achieve only so much through policies that seek to lower long-term interest rates.

“The Federal Reserve has made enormous efforts to try to help this economy recover and stabilize” though its control of interest rates, or monetary policy, he said. Those policies have driven rates to record lows.

“Monetary policy can do a lot, but monetary policy is not a panacea,” Bernanke said.

.In his speech, Bernanke said the United States and other rich nations could re-learn a few lessons from fast-growing developing nations. He said the successful emerging economies such as China had adopted disciplined budget policies, embraced freed trade, made public investments and supported education.

In the question-and-answer period, Bernanke cautioned U.S. lawmakers against cutting deficits too quickly to reduce budget deficits. He has said that could put the fragile economy at risk.