The Real Unemployment Rate Hits a 68-Year High


John Miller
Dollars & Sense
July 28, 2009

[efoods]Although you have to dig into the statistics to know it, unemployment in the United States is now worse than at any time since the end of the Great Depression.

From December 2007, when the recession began, to May of this year, 6.0 million U.S. workers lost their jobs. The big three U.S. automakers are closing plants and letting white-collar workers go too. Chrysler, the worst off of the three, will lay off one-quarter of its workforce even if it survives. Heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar and giant banking conglomerate Citigroup have both laid off thousands of workers. Alcoa, the aluminum maker, has let workers go. Computer maker Dell and express shipper DHL have both canned many of their workers. Circuit City, the leading electronics retailer, went out of business, costing its 40,000 workers their jobs. Lawyers in large national firms are getting the ax. Even on Sesame Street, workers are losing their jobs.

The official unemployment rate hit 9.4% in May—already as high as the peak unemployment rates in all but the 1982 recession, the worst since World War II. And topping the 1982 recession’s peak rate of 10.8% is now distinctly possible. The current downturn has pushed up unemployment rates by more than any previous postwar recession (see Table 1).

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