What recovery? Unemployment shoots past 10 percent | Shanghai Daily

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What recovery? Unemployment shoots past 10 percent

JUST when it was beginning to look a little better, the US economy relapsed yesterday with a return to double-digit unemployment for only the second time since World War II and warnings that next year will be even worse than previously thought.

The jobless rate rocketed to 10.2 percent in October, the highest since early 1983, dealing a psychological blow to Americans as they prepare holiday shopping lists. It was another worse-than-expected report casting a shadow over the struggling recovery.

President Barack Obama called it "a sobering number that underscores the economic challenges that lie ahead." He signed a measure to extend unemployment benefits and to expand a tax credit for homebuyers.

Economists had not expected the 10 percent mark to come so quickly and immediately darkened their forecasts. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com, and Joshua Shapiro, chief US economist at MFR Inc., predicted the rate will peak at 11 percent by mid-2010. They earlier had projected 10.5 percent.

Unemployment at 11 percent would be a post-World War II record. Only once since then has joblessness hit double digits in the United States - from September 1982 to July 1983, topping out at 10.8 percent.

"It's not a good report," said Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist for New York-based investment firm Miller Tabak & Co. "What we're seeing is a validation of the idea that a jobless recovery is perfectly on track."

The Labor Department, using a survey of company payrolls, said the economy shed 190,000 jobs in October. A separate survey of households found 558,000 more people were unemployed last month than in September. Some 15.7 million Americans are out of work.

The survey of companies doesn't count the self-employed and undercounts employees of small businesses. So the economic picture could be even more dire.

Troubles for small businesses could have a disproportionate effect on the economy, because they account for about 60 percent of America's jobs. They tend to rely on credit cards and home equity lines - both of which banks have tightened - for cash flow.

And the unemployment rate doesn't include people without jobs who have stopped looking, or those who have settled for part-time jobs. Counting those people, the unemployment rate would be 17.5 percent, the highest since at least 1994.

Economists had expected unemployment to rise to no more than 9.9 percent, up just a tick from September's 9.8 percent, and the surprising jump added to fears that the recovery could fizzle if Americans don't spend.

Already, consumer confidence for October came in well below what analysts were expecting. Shoppers' sentiments about the state of the economy are the gloomiest in nearly three decades.

Stores, always with an eye on holiday sales, are especially worried this year.

"This is a situation where the recovery balloon is getting off the ground but might not have enough power to keep rising," said Brian Bethune, economist at IHS Global Insight.

The worst recession since the 1930s may be over, but the recovery isn't expected to be strong enough to stem job losses and get businesses hiring again. And the unemployed are staying out of work longer. The count of people jobless for six months or longer stands at a record 5.6 million.

Prospects that the government might pass a second stimulus bill appear dim. Congress is already grappling with sweeping health care legislation, raising concerns about further swelling the federal deficit.

"More debt, more spending ... clearly has not worked - particularly in a time of double-digit unemployment," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Democrats said the economy would have been in worse shape without the first stimulus.

October was the 22nd straight month the US economy has lost jobs, the longest on record dating back 70 years. Losses at factories, construction companies, retailers and financial services companies far outweighed gains in education and health care, professional and business services and elsewhere. Government payrolls were flat.

One faint sign of hope: Temporary employment grew by 33,700 jobs, its third straight month of gains after steep losses earlier this year. Employers are likely to add temporary workers before hiring permanent ones.

Chris Rupkey, an economist at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, called the big jump in the jobless rate "a kick in the stomach" and predicted a slog ahead. It could take at least four years for the jobless rate to drop to more normal levels of 5 or 6 percent.
"The last two recoveries from recession in the '90s and 2001 were jobless, and this one is clearly headed down the same road," he said.




 

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