The unemployment rate ballooned in December to 7.2%, up from 6.8% in November and 5% in April, according to a government jobs report released today.
As the nations employers shed 524,000 jobs last month, more than 11 million Americans are now unemployed.
Last month’s unemployment rate was the highest since January 1993, when the economy was trying to recover from the 1990-91 recession. The lost in total jobs for 2008 was the largest since 1945.
“These numbers, back to back, of more than a half million a month suggest that the U.S. economy is in a freefall,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Global Insight, to The New York Times. “It’s scary, and it indicates that unless something is done and done quickly to turn this economy around, we’re looking at an awful situation this year.”
The toll of job losses cut across every sector. Nearly 800,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in 2008, and 630,000 construction jobs disappeared as home-building slowed. Jobs dried up in the financial sector, in publishing houses and trucking companies, department stores and hotels.
“This is unprecedented,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Economy.com. “It’s coast to coast. It’s everywhere. There’s really no refuge in this job market. There’s no safe place.”
“Even with a stimulus package, the unemployment rate is going to keep rising and by December it is likely to be over 9 percent,” said David A. Levy, chairman of the Jerome Levy Forecasting Center. In a speech on the economy, Mr. Obama said Thursday that the unemployment rate “could reach double digits.”
The accelerating job loss — more than one million jobs have disappeared in just two months — suggests that the recession will last at least into early summer, making it the longest since the 1930s. The severe recessions of the mid-1970s and early 1980s each lasted 16 months, the current record.
But remember, it’s all in how you look at it. 236.com, for example, makes a comforting observation: 92.8% of us are NOT seeking unemployment benefits.