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“Hidden unemployment and wages lagging inflation make the economy the most important issue dogging Republican presidential nominee John McCain,” said Peter Morici, business professor at the University of Maryland.

He estimated that the unemployment rate is closer to 7.7 percent when millions of discouraged workers who have stopped looking for jobs are added in.

“Quite simply, ordinary Americans have not benefited from the strong growth accomplished in recent years, and this gives Democratic candidate Barack Obama’s proposals to redistribute income a lot of traction.”

Unemployment has spread broadly across age and demographic groups since spring. While an initial surge in joblessness in May and June was associated with teenagers and college students flooding into the labor force looking for work, last month’s rise hit adults of every race and gender.

Nearly one in five teen workers remained unemployed, while joblessness surged by over a half point to 5.3 percent among adult women and to 8 percent for Hispanic workers. Unemployment soared nearly a full percentage point to 10.6 percent among black workers.

“The pain of job losses among teenagers and minorities are acute,” said Sung Won Sohn, economics professor at California State University. But he took the big increase in people looking for work as a good sign, as it suggests they are finding enough jobs available that they have not gotten discouraged and dropped out of the job market.