Jobless Rate Hits 7.2 percent, a 16-Year High

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With the recession in full swing, the nation’s employers shed 524,000 jobs in December, the government reported Friday, and a rapidly deteriorating economy promised more big losses in the months ahead. December’s job losses brought the total for 2008 to 2.6 million, spanning a recession that started 12 months ago.

The unemployment rate jumped to 7.2 percent in December from 6.8 percent in November and 5 percent last April, when the recession was four months old and just beginning to bite. More than 11 million Americans are now unemployed....

The accelerating job loss — more than one million jobs have disappeared in just two months — suggests that the recession will last at least into early summer, making it the longest since the 1930s. The severe recessions of the mid-1970s and early 1980s each lasted 16 months, the current record....

But for all the job losses, the current recession, now in its 14th month, falls short of the mid-’70s and early ’80s recessions, at least so far. The total number of men and women at work declined 2.7 percent in the 1974-75 recession and by 3.1 percent in 1981-82. In the current recession, the loss through November was 1.9 percent.

“We are not yet near the numbers of those earlier recessions,” Mr. Barbera said, “but five more months like what we have been having and we’ll be there.”

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