WASHINGTON – The nation's unemployment rate bolted to 7.2 percent in December, the highest level in 16 years, as nervous employers slashed 524,000 jobs. The labor market is expected to remain weak as mass layoffs continue.
Steve Pruitt, from Belle Chasse, La., fills out an employment application during a Dollar General job fair in Metairie, La., Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009. The nation's unemployment rate bolted to 7.2 percent in December, the highest since early 1993, as nervous employers slashed 524,000 jobs. [Agencies]
The Labor Department's report, released Friday, underscored the terrible toll the deepening recession is having on workers and companies, and highlights the hard task President-elect Barack Obama faces in resuscitating the flat-lined economy.
For all of 2008, the economy lost a net total of 2.6 million jobs. That was the most since 1945, when nearly 2.8 million jobs were lost. Although the number of jobs in the US has more than tripled since then, losses of this magnitude are still being painfully felt.
With employers throttling back hiring, the nation's jobless rate averaged 5.8 percent last year. That was up sharply from 4.6 percent in 2007 and was the highest since 2003.
Although economists were forecasting even more payroll reductions in December - around 550,000 - job losses in both October and November turned out to be deeper than previously estimated. Revised figures showed that the employers slashed 584,000 positions in November and another 423,000 in October.
The unemployment rate, meanwhile, rose from 6.8 percent in November, to 7.2 percent last month, the highest since January 1993. Economists were expecting the jobless rate to rise to 7 percent.
Job losses were widespread in December. Construction companies slashed 101,000, and factories axed a whopping 149,000 jobs. Professional and business services got rid of 113,000 jobs. Retailers eliminated nearly 67,000 jobs, and leisure and hospitality reduced employment by 22,000. That more than swamped gains in education and health care, and the government.
Employers are chopping costs as they try to cope with dwindling appetite from customers in the US as well as in other countries, which are struggling with their own economic problems.