- The Washington Times - Friday, May 8, 2009

The collapse of the job market continued in April, with unemployment surging nearly a half percentage point to 8.9 percent as businesses laid off another 539,000 workers, the Labor Department reported Friday morning.

It was the highest unemployment since the deep recession in September 1983. The loss of jobs would have been even worse at 611,000 in April if the federal government had not hired 66,000 workers temporarily to start conducting the 2010 Census. April’s job hemorrhaging brings the total job loss during the recession to 5.7 million. April’s giant job loss represented only a slight tailing off of a string of enormous, unprecedented job losses of over 600,000 since November, and follows a revised total of national layoffs of nearly 700,000 in March that was the largest in modern history.

“Before this recession runs its course, it will have been the longest and deepest downturn since the Great Depression,” said Larry Mishel, analyst with the Employment Policy Institute, a labor think-tank. He noted that the rate of job losses and the fast rise in unemployment since the recession began in December is already outpacing anything seen in modern times.

The recession is taking a toll even on people who are working, with major cuts in hours and the workweek that are slashing take-home pay, he said.

The downsizing of jobs occurred in nearly every sector of the economy in April, led by 270,000 layoffs in manufacturing and construction and 122,000 losses of professional and business jobs. Those represent the backbone of the U.S. job market.

Retailers let go another 47,000 workers and the leisure and travel industry bled another 44,000 jobs as Americans skipped vacations out of worries about their jobs and the need to save money.

The workweek was unchanged at 33.2 hours, and wages stayed flat, yielding a gain of only 3.2 percent in the last year.

Markets were likely to approve of the slight decline in jobs lost during April compared with previous months.

“The decline in employment has moderated, though not so clearly in the private sector,” said Pierre Ellis, senior economist at Decision Economics. “A lot of the improvement is due to public government employment. But still, it’s a sign that the economy is approaching bottom and the indications for May look much more favorable.”

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