Job Losses Continue To Mount, Pushing Unemployment to 8.5%

Apr 3, 2009
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics played spoil-sport this morning, raining on Wall Street’s parade with a jobs report that said unemployment has officially hit 8.5 percent following the loss in March of 663,000 jobs. The loss is the equivalent of putting every person in Baltimore out of work.

The news, though expected, sobered Wall Street, where the Dow flirted with the 8,000 mark, before giving up nearly 40 points at midday.

Since December 2007, when the recession officially began, 5.3 million jobs have been lost, with the BLS pointing out, “Half of the increase in both the number of unemployed and the unemployment rate occurred in the last 4 months.” The unemployment rate is now the highest it has been since 1983.

The BLS also adjusted its figures for January, adding 86,000 more lost jobs to the 655,000 it had previously reported.

As bad as the job losses are, they only tell part of the story. A better measure of the pain workers are feeling is found in other parts of the BLS “Employment Situation” where the government reports that 9 million Americans are working part-time for economic reasons, the so-called “involuntary part-time workers.” Their numbers swelled by 423,000 during March

These are people like Ken Karpman, who was featured on ABC’s 20/20. He’s the Florida hedge fund founder who turned to pizza delivery after finding himself without a job and no prospects after going bust.

Now add to that another 2.1 million workers labeled as “marginally attached.” The BLS defines these people as individuals who “wanted and were available for work and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the four weeks preceding the survey.”

When these numbers are added to the 13.161 million officially unemployed it means 16 percent of the U.S. workforce is out of work or marginally employed.

“We’re closing in on 25 million people who are underemployed in one way or another,” Mark Zandi, founder and chief economist of Moody’s, told the New York Times “It highlights the incredible breadth of the downturn.”

The Federal Reserve and economists expect the big job losses to continue for at least the next few months, although they differ on how much worse things will get. The Fed predicts unemployment to top out at 8.8 percent; many economists think it will hit 10 percent.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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