US unemployment rate hits 25-year high

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : US employers slashed another 663,000 jobs in March raising the unemployment rate to 8.5 percent, a 25-year high, and swelling the number of jobs lost to 5.1 million since the beginning of 2008.

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Over two million jobs have been lost so far in 2009, according to the latest data the Labour Department released Friday.

March’s monthly loss is up slightly from the loss of 651,000 jobs in February, although it’s less than the number of jobs lost in January. That figure was revised up to a loss of 741,000 jobs, the biggest monthly drop in 59 years.

As the US economy battles a recession that has entered its 16th month, trimming of 663,000 jobs last month was roughly in line with forecasts of a loss of 658,000 jobs, according to economists surveyed by

To put the three-month loss in context, if no more jobs are lost over the next nine months, 2009 would still be the fourth worst year for job losses since the government started tracking the number of workers in 1939, analysts said.

The unemployment rate climbed to 8.5 percent from 8.1 percent in February, in line with economists’ forecasts. It was the highest since October, 1983.

The job losses were felt throughout all areas of the economy, with the manufacturing and construction sectors as well as business and professional services industries all cutting more than 100,000 jobs each in March.

Retailers and leisure and hospitality companies also trimmed jobs, as did the government. The only industry to post a gain in jobs during the month was the education and health care services group – and that sector added only a modest 8,000 jobs in the month.

Employers cut back the number of hours for their workers as well. The average hourly work week fell to 33.2 hours, the lowest level on record going back to 1964.

There also was an increase in the number of people working part-time jobs who want to get a full-time job. A record nine million Americans were “underemployed” in March.

Including those people along with discouraged job seekers no longer counted in the main unemployment rate, the government’s so-called underemployment rate stood at 15.6 percent in March.