Unemployment rate falls, but recession's toll is worst since the '30s

Revised figures show that the unemployment rate fell, but the recession destroyed far more jobs than previously thought.

Robert Galbraith/Reuters
Two men looked over job listings Thursday at an employment center in San Francisco. Some 8.4 million jobs have been lost during the recession, the Labor Department reported Friday. That's three times the employment losses of the deep recession in the early 1980s.

You can capitalize it now: It's the Great Recession. And it has cost the United States more jobs than any downturn since the Great Depression.

The job losses were already big before the Labor Department revised its figures Friday. Now, they're staggering: 8.4 million jobs have disappeared since the recession's start in December 2007.

That's three times the job losses of the dot-com bust or the double-dip recessions of the 1980s.

"The collapse in employment last year was far, far worse than previously thought," writes Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics, in an analysis.

The fallout is not just economic. It's political. Just as Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush had to contend with charges that they presided over a jobless recovery, so President Obama is at risk of enduring the same phenomenon.

He can point to some good news in Friday's unemployment report. January's job losses of 20,000 were so small that the employment situation was "essentially unchanged," the Labor Department said. The unemployment rate actually fell from 10 percent in December to 9.7 percent in January. Many economists had expected the rate to increase.

Jobs at temp services – an early harbinger of labor recovery – rose by more than 50,000 in January. Retail trade saw a jump of 42,000.

But even if the US begins adding jobs in the coming months, many economists don't expect a quick acceleration in hiring. Even if it comes, the fallout from the Great Recession will shadow this administration and the economy for a long, long time.

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