I wonder what Obama is going to do for laid-off workers who weren't employed long enough to be eligible for unemployment. That's a big - and rarely di
January 10, 2009

I wonder what Obama is going to do for laid-off workers who weren't employed long enough to be eligible for unemployment. That's a big - and rarely discussed - problem:

More than 11 million American workers -- roughly 1 out of 14 -- are unemployed and actively looking for new jobs, according to the Labor Department. An additional 8 million are working part time even though they want full-time work, and 1.9 million were out of work and either too discouraged to keep looking or had refocused on school or caring for family.

"Factoring in discouraged workers, unemployment is closer to 9.4%," said Peter Morici, an economist at the University of Maryland. "Add workers in part-time positions that cannot find full-time employment and the hidden unemployment rate is 14.5%."

The stock market had braced for bad news, so the reaction was relatively muted compared with the dramatic swings of last autumn. The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 143.28 points, or 1.6%, to 8,599.18.

The last time the unemployment rate topped 7% was in 1993. In nominal terms, the economy has lost more jobs this year than in any year since 1945, although the population has grown significantly.

Still, economists generally expect this recession, which began in December 2007, to be the longest since the Great Depression. The two longest recessions of the postwar era -- 1973-75 and 1982-83 -- each lasted 16 months. (The deepest quarterly contraction of the postwar era was a 10.4% decline in gross domestic product in the fourth quarter of 1958.)

The unemployment rate is still far from the levels of the Great Depression, when more than 20% of American workers lost their jobs, as well as of the shorter but deep recession of the early 1980s, when unemployment reached 10.8% in 1982.

The report was full of ill portents nonetheless. For one thing, the average number of weekly hours worked dropped to 33.3 per worker. That's the lowest number since the Labor Department began keeping track in 1964. Businesses tend to cut hours before cutting workers, suggesting that more layoffs are pending.

"We're seeing a complete unraveling of the labor market and are on track for getting beyond 10% unemployment," said Lawrence Mishel, president of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

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