Friday, January 9, 2009

Largest annual loss of jobs since 1946

This morning's report by the U.S. Department of Labor on the December jobless rate is as bad as was expected. More than half a million jobs were lost on net in December according to the payroll figures, and national unemployment rose to 7.2 percent, the highest since January 1993.

The payroll figures indicate that 2.6 million jobs were lost on net for all of 2008, with 1.9 million of these losses occurring in the last four months. In absolute terms, the December to December loss in payroll employment is the largest 12-month loss since February 1946 during the demobilization from World War II. In percentage terms, the loss is the largest since December 1982.

Household data indicate that the percent of the U.S. population that is employed has fallen from 62.7 percent to 61.0 percent over the last year.

The median duration of unemployment spells is up to just past 10 weeks, meaning that half of all spells are lasting more than two and a half months. The mean duration is nearly five months.

In a separate study issued last month, the Department of Labor also reported that involuntary part-time employment has nearly doubled in the last year and a half. We typically conceptualize employment as either being with or without a job but overlook that there is a continuous dimension. People sometimes aren't able to work the number of hours that they would like, and this problem, along with unemployment, gets worse in recessions.