- The Washington Times - Friday, August 7, 2009


The nation’s unemployment rate dipped slightly to 9.4 percent last month as businesses laid off fewer workers, in a sign the grip of the worst recession in modern times is easing, the Labor Department reported Friday morning.

Fewer than 250,000 jobs were eliminated during the month — more than halving the 645,000 average of monthly job losses during the deepest phase of the recession between November and April, the department said.

The slight easing of the unemployment rate from 9.5 percent in June also was surprisingly good news, as many economists had predicted the jobless rate would continue its steep climb toward double-digit levels. However, the drop-off reflects not only fewer layoffs but the massive exodus of 637.000 workers from the labor force, possibly because many were discouraged about finding jobs.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the numbers were “more evidence that we have pulled back from the edge and from the brink of a depression.”

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“None of us lose sight though of the fact that last month a quarter of a million people lost their job,” Mr. Gibbs said.

He added that the administration still thinks the overall unemployment rate will move above 10 percent this year.

“The U.S. labor market is on the mend,” said Harm Bandholz, economist at Unicredit Markets. “The pace of layoffs has slowed down noticeably.”

While layoffs were lower during July, jobs continued to be shed from nearly every major industry, including manufacturing, construction, finance, retailing, transportation and business services. July’s 247,000 job losses brought the total of jobs eliminated during the recession to a 6.7 million — a modern record.

As in past months, health care was the only top industry still hiring, posting 20,000 new job openings. And government jobs inched by 7,000, most likely reflecting the growing impact of the $787 billion economic stimulus bill. But formerly strong growth in education jobs came to a standstill, and the department said a 9,000 job increase in leisure and hospitality jobs was not a significant change.

In other signs that the economy is improving modestly, the department said 43,000 fewer jobs were lost in May and June than previously reported.

Also, the average workweek rose a tenth of an hour from a record low of 33 hours hit in June. The manufacturing workweek increased more robustly by three-tenths of an hour and fewer auto workers were laid off largely because of the drastic cutbacks in staff already imposed by the automakers, the department said.



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