Unemployment moved closer to the dreaded double digits, rising to 9.7% as companies continued to shed jobs.
The August number was up from 9.4% a month earlier, and way up from the 6% jobless rate of a year ago. It was the highest unemployment rate the nation has seen since June, 1983, when the figure was 10.1%. Still, economists saw hopeful signs, as the number of jobs slashhed fell to 216,000, which was lower than expected. Monthly job cuts earlier in the year totaled as much as 700,000. The economy has lost 7.4 million jobs since the recession started in December 2007.
Data on U.S. employment has grown more mixed of late. While there has been improvement, economists expect a labor market recovery will be fairly sluggish. Meanwhile, U.S. Federal Reserve officials have grown more confident that the worst economic downturn in decades is ending. According to minutes of the August meeting held by the Fed's policy panel, Fed officials see growth resuming this year, and they expect the recovery to pick up in 2010. But they point out that the economy remains vulnerable to shocks.
President Obama has said he expects the unemployment rate to reach double digits before beginning a descent. While there are mixed signs that a recovery could be underway, employment is almost always seen as one of the last economic indicators to improve.
"There's no doubt that we have a long way to go and I and the other members of this administration will not let up until those Americans who are looking for jobs can find them," President Obama said in a statement from the Rose Garden earlier this week.