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US Unemployment Rate Up to 9.4%, Losses Lower

Posted on 05 Jun 2009

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The Labor Department said today that employers slashed jobs at a much more measured rate than expected in May, even as the unemployment rate soared above 9 percent for the first time in 26 years.

According to data that simultaneously show how deep the recession has become and offer hope that it might taper off in the months ahead, a net total of 345,000 net jobs were cut in May -- terrible by most standards but the smallest rate of job loss since September.

Economists had expected a much worse loss, of as many as 525,000 jobs. The Labor Department also said that April job losses were somewhat less severe than originally reported.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate -- which is based on a survey of households rather than of businesses -- rose to 9.4 percent, from 8.9 percent in April. The last time the jobless rate was that high was 1983.

The information was welcome news, despite the rising jobless rate, because it suggested the furious pace of job losses -- which peaked at 741,000 jobs lost in January -- is finally easing. It is the strongest evidence yet that the economy's downdraft of the winter has given way to a more steady, measured decline.

That said, the labor market is far from rosy. Since the beginning of the recession in December 2007, 7 million people have become unemployed, including an additional 787,000 in May alone.

The unemployment rate rose quickly among almost all groups, with the steepest rises among teenagers (up 1.2 percent to 22.7 percent) and Hispanics (up 1.4 percent to 12.7 percent).

The job loss figures were not as bad as expected in part because the construction industry no longer shed jobs at the same furious pace.

Construction employers cut 59,000 jobs, compared with 108,000 in April. Also the leisure and hospitality sector, which had been shedding jobs, recorded a small gain of 3,000 positions, and the pace of job declines lessened among retailers and professional and business services.

Manufacturers, by contrast, continued slashing jobs aggressively, cutting another 156,000 jobs. That reflected in part major automakers going on a summer production hiatus, aiming to work off excessive inventories.