598,000 Jobs Shed In Brutal January

People across the country search for jobs as, for the first time on record, all 50 states report increased unemployment rates.
By Neil Irwin and Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 7, 2009

Conditions for the nation's workers deteriorated last month at an unrelenting pace, new data showed yesterday, adding urgency to the Obama administration's calls for aggressive action to curb job losses and bolster the economy.

The White House has been working on parallel tracks to arrest the economic free fall. While building support for a massive stimulus package, which cleared a crucial hurdle in the Senate last night, the administration has also been cobbling together a rescue plan for the financial system, which the Treasury Department is scheduled to unveil Monday.

Both efforts are designed to improve the nation's employment outlook, by directly creating jobs in the case of stimulus and, in the case of the financial rescue, by steadying the banks that would ordinarily lend to employers seeking to expand.

The need for progress on those fronts seemed more important than ever yesterday, as the Labor Department announced that conditions worsened more than expected last month. The nation's employers shed 598,000 jobs, the most since 1974, driving the unemployment rate to 7.6 percent from 7.2 percent. If the jobless rate keeps rising at the pace it has for the past two months, it will hit double digits in summer and reach its highest rate since the Great Depression by the fall.

Despite the grim data, the Dow Jones industrial average climbed 2.7 percent, or 217.52 points, on anticipation that the Senate would pass the economic stimulus package.

Since the recession began in December 2007, the nation has lost more jobs as a percentage of the labor force than it had at a comparable point in the early 1980s downturn, the worst recession of the post-World War II era. The number of unemployed Americans over the past year has risen by about 4.1 million, equivalent to the entire labor force of Virginia.

"It is almost set in stone now that this will be the worst job market we've seen in the postwar period," said Scott Anderson, a senior economist at Wells Fargo.

Companies in nearly every sector of the economy have cut jobs or announced that they would take other steps to save on costs, including freezing or reducing pay or eliminating contributions to employee retirement programs. Yesterday, Emerson Electric, a global manufacturing and technology company based in St. Louis, became the latest firm to disclose cutbacks, saying it would slash up to 14,000 jobs this year because of lower demand.

President Obama seized on yesterday's dismal news, as he has with other bleak data lately, to press for passage of the economic stimulus package.

"This is not some abstract debate," Obama said at the White House. "It is an urgent and growing crisis that can only be fully understood through the unseen stories that lie underneath each and every one of those 600,000 jobs that were lost this month."

The financial rescue package that Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner plans to lay out next week would aim to save or create jobs by propping up banks and other troubled financial institutions, which in turn should make them able to lend money to businesses that seek to expand or consumers who wish to make purchases. The stimulus package, a mix of tax cuts and new spending, seeks to save or create jobs directly by encouraging retail sales and business investment.

Many of those jobs would probably be concentrated in the manufacturing industry. According to an estimate by economist Mark Zandi of Moody's Economy.com, who has been advising congressional Democrats, an earlier version of the stimulus similar to the package that passed the House of Representatives last month would generate 590,000 manufacturing jobs by the end of 2012. Last month alone, the nation lost 207,000 manufacturing jobs, the largest one-month decline since 1982. Most of those losses were concentrated in companies that make vehicles or related parts and machinery.

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