The Free Fall Continues; Unemployment Hits 7.2%

Regional and state unemployment rates were universally higher in December, during which time 524,000 jobs were lost, bringing the national unemployment rate to 7.2 percent, according to unemployment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released Tuesday. All 50 states and the District of Columbia recorded both over-the-month and over-the-year unemployment rate increases. In December, the West and Midwest again posted the highest regional jobless rates, 8.0 and 7.5 percent, respectively. The Northeast and South recorded the lowest unemployment rates, posting 7 percent each.  According to the Labor Department’s report, all four regions registered “statistically significant rate increases” from November and from the year earlier. December brought massive lay-offs, particularly for the financial and manufacturing sectors — January has been no exception, with companies like Microsoft, Sprint, Home Depot and Boeing announcing giant job cuts. The only month-over-month increases in the level of employment for December were recorded in Louisiana, inching 0.2 percent higher, and the District of Columbia, rising less than 0.1 percent.  Employment remained unchanged in Oklahoma, and decreased in the remaining 48 states — California lead the way, shedding a devastating 78,200 jobs. “And there’s room for things to get worse,” said BusinessWeek’s economics editor Peter Coy. He said even if Obama’s stimulus plan passes, most economists predict it won’t have a significant effect until the second half of 2009. All told for 2008, the economy saw 2.6 million job losses, the most since 1945, according to Bloomberg. Coy points out, however, the economy was far smaller in 1945 and in percentage terms, job loss now is a near fraction to what it was back then. Over the year, nonfarm employment increased in 8 states and the District of Columbia and decreased in 42 states.  Wyoming reported the largest over-the-year percentage increase in employment, followed by Texas. The largest over-the-year percentage decrease in employment was reported in Rhode Island. The Obama Administration is pressing for a speedy passing of its stimulus package that would aim to generate jobs among many other things. The House is set to vote on the legislation tomorrow, and Democratic leaders have said they hope to have it on Obama’s desk by mid-February. “We are at a moment of maximum challenge four our economy and our country,”  said Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner at his swearing-in Ceremony. “Our agenda is to move quickly…to launch the programs that will bring economic recovery sooner…” Write to Kelly Curran at Disclosure: The author held no relevant investment positions when this story was published. Indirect holdings may exist via mutual fund investments. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade.

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