Millions of unemployed workers are reported ''getting desperate'' as jobless benefits run out and the number out of work continues to rise nationally.
Latest government figures show that unemployment increased sharply in December, as 460,000 more layoffs pushed the nation's jobless rate up from 8.4 percent in November to 8.9 percent, the second highest monthly level since the start of World War II.
The number unemployed was officially reported at about 9.5 million, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics said that 1.2 million more were ''discouraged workers'' who are no longer looking for work because they believe there is none to be found. They are not counted among the jobless in the BLS total. If they are counted with the jobless, the number unemployed reaches 10.7 million. According to Dr. Janet L. Norwood, commissioner of labor statistics, only about 40 percent of that number are now eligible for unemployment compensation.
During the 1975 recession, two-thirds of those out of work received jobless benefits. Appearing Jan. 8 before the Joint Economic Committee of the House and Senate, Dr. Norwood said that a tightening of unemployment compensation rules during the Carter and Reagan administrations, including the cancellation of a system of extended benefits for long-unemployed workers, contributed to the sharp rise in those who get no public benefits.
At the same time, Dr. Norwood said, the present recession followed one in early 1980 ''after a very short interval.''
''It's possible that some workers laid off in early 1980 did not accrue new eligibility for unemployment compensation before they were laid off again. It's also possible that some have already used up their eligibility under the six-month limit,'' Dr. Norwood told the Joint Committee.
The admission that as many as 6.5 million or more unemployed workers are receiving no benefits brought a quick reaction from Democrats in Congress and from organized labor, with demands for changes in tax, budget, nd tight money policies.
Rep. Henry S. Reuss (D) of Wisconsin, said that it is ''heartless'' for President Reagan to continue to tell people ''they have to lose jobs to bring down the inflation rate.''
The White House conceded that the latest unemployment figures are ''tragic'' but predicted the rate will come down ''toward spring and toward summer,'' with ''slight fluctuations'' before then. Experts expect the fluctuations to push the rate up to between 9 percent and 9.5 percent over the next two or three months.
The December jobless rate was particularly severe in heavy manufacturing, where the rate went up to 11.8 percent and among adult males, where it rose to 8 percent. The number of unemployed blacks rose to 16.1 percent, another new record. Meanwhile, the total number employed dropped by 840,000 in December to about 97.2 million.