U.S. unemployment rate jumps to 26-year high of 9.7%

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Published: September 4,2009

WASHINGTON — The U.S. unemploy- ment rate jumped to a 26-year high of 9.7% in August as nonfarm payrolls fell by 216,000, the 20th consecutive monthly decline, the Labor Department estimated Friday.

U.S. payrolls have dropped by 6.9 million to a total of 131.2 million since the recession began in December 2007, the government data showed. Unemployment has increased by 7.4 million during the recession to stand at 14.9 million.

The 216,000 decline in payrolls was close to market expectations of a 233,000 drop, but the unemployment rate rose higher than the 9.5% level expected. The unemployment rate was 9.4% in July. See Economic Calendar.

It was the smallest decline in payrolls since August 2008.

Payroll losses have moderated in most industries in the past two months after severe declines earlier in the year. In the past three months, payroll losses have averaged 318,000 per month, compared with 491,000 in the previous three-month period.

Payrolls declined an upwardly revised 276,000 in July. In June and July, payroll losses were revised up by 49,000. Read the full government report.

Details of the August report were generally weak, however.

Payrolls fell in most sectors of the economy except for health care. Total hours worked in the economy dropped by 0.3%, long-term unemployment worsened, and the number of people working just part time who want full-time work reached 9.1 million, up 278,000.

The number of people who’ve been out of work longer than six months nudged up to 5 million, representing about one-third of the unemployed.

An alternative measure of unemployment that includes discouraged workers and those forced to resort to part-time work rose to 16.8% from 16.3%, marking the highest on record dating back to 1995.

Average hourly earnings on the month rose 6 cents, or 0.3%, to $18.65 an hour. In the past year, average hourly earnings are up 2.6%.

Most industries shed jobs

Of the 271 industries as tracked by the Labor Department, 35% were adding workers in August, according to a survey of hundreds of thousands of business establishments.

Private-sector employment fell by 198,000 in August. Employment in the private-sector is now lower than it was 10 years ago.

Goods-producing industries cut 136,000 jobs, including 65,000 in construction and 63,000 in manufacturing.

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