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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

March 5, 2010 at 9:45 AM

Treading water on unemployment? Or stuck way below sea level?

Economists and analysts had been preparing all manner of excuses for a bad February unemployment report today, mainly blaming the blizzard. As it turns out, the numbers surprised in a “positive” way. Only 36,000 jobs were lost, compared with the average 700,000 jobs being lost in the first three months of last year.

Digging deeper, the essential visual aid comes from Calculated Risk, which tracks job losses in every post-World War II recession. As the chart makes clear, the U.S. economy has never lost so many jobs at such a steep and rapid rate — at least since the Great Depression. And we are, at best, bumping along the bottom with nearly 15 million “officially” unemployed. Think of one of those submarine movies…

While the overall unemployment rate held steady at 9.7 percent, the rates were more sobering for separate groups of workers. Teenage unemployment, year-to-year, rose to a scary 25 percent. For adult men, it rose to 10 percent, and nearly 16 percent for blacks. Four in ten workers have been unemployed for 26 weeks or more — again, a post-Depression high. It is considerably higher than the previous post-war peak in 1983.

The data also show that underemployment has ticked back up, from January’s 16.5 percent to 16.7 percent. This is more the real rate, counting part-timers who want full-time work, and people who want to work but have given up looking.

In such an environment, the $15 billion jobs bill may be a legislative compromise, but it will do little to create a sustained boost employment.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Downtown pickpockets

You mean they nabbed Killinger?

His haul was bigger

Comments | More in Jobs/Unemployment

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