Bleak employment picture

BLEAK EMPLOYMENT PICTURE…. The news isn’t unexpected, but that’s cold comfort given the results.

With a recession in full swing, the nation’s employers shed 524,000 jobs in December, the government reported Friday, and a rapidly deteriorating economy promised more significant losses in the months ahead. December’s job losses brought the total for 2008 to 2.4 million.

The unemployment rate jumped to 7.2 percent in December from 6.8 percent in November and 5 percent last April, when the recession was four months old and just beginning to bite. More than 10 million Americans are now unemployed, and their growing ranks seem likely to put pressure on President-elect Barack Obama and Congress to act quickly on a stimulus package that mixes tax cuts and public spending.

“Even with a stimulus package, the unemployment rate is going to keep rising and by December it is likely to be over 9 percent,” said David A. Levy, chairman of the Jerome Levy Forecasting Center. In a speech on the economy, Mr. Obama said Thursday that the unemployment rate “could reach double digits.”

The accelerating job loss — more than one million jobs have disappeared in just two months — suggests that the recession will last at least into early summer, making it the longest since the 1930s. The severe recessions of the mid-1970s and early 1980s each lasted 16 months, the current record.

What’s more, job losses from October and November were revised downward, with 584,000 cuts in November and another 423,000 in October.

All told, the economy lost 2.6 million jobs in 2008, the worst in 63 years.