- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 7 (UPI) — The nation's unemployment rate increased to 5.8 percent last month as the country moved closer to war against Iraq and dealt with a sluggish economy.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported Friday that non-farm payrolls fell by 308,000 in February, after an increase of 185,000 in January.

"While today's news was unexpected and certainly disappointing, a number of factors are thought to be responsible for the unexpected decline in payroll employment," U.S. Secretary of labor Elaine L. Chao said.

Among the factors that contributed to the increase in the unemployment rate were several winter storms that shut down much of the mid-Atlantic and East Coast last month and the call up of 150,000 military reserves.

According to Kathleen Utgoff, who heads the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the February report shows a widespread decline of jobs, particularly in manufacturing, construction, the service sector, the transportation industry, and in retail-trade.

"We know that the economy has not been growing fast enough, and that too many people have not found work," said Chao. "That's why the president has been reiterating that now is the time for an economic growth and job package."

In the last two years, since the U.S. economy slowed to a recessionary level, there have been more that two million jobs cut, with around 8.5 million Americans currently being out of work.

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