UNEMPLOYMENT CONTINUES ITS CLIMB…. For all the recent talk about hopeful hints that the worst of the economic news is behind us, the employment picture remains awful.

The American economy shed another 663,000 jobs in March, the government reported Friday, bringing the toll of job losses during the recession to 5.1 million.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the national unemployment rate climbed to 8.5 percent from 8.1 percent in February, its highest levels in a quarter-century, as employers raced to cut their payroll costs. It was the 15th consecutive month of job losses. […]

The figures offered a stark contrast to some recent glimmers of life elsewhere in the economy, which have buoyed stock markets and heartened hopes for a turnaround. The sharp and continuing increase in unemployment suggests that even if the downward spiral is beginning to level off, job losses are likely to keep piling up for the rest of this year and into 2010.

The 8.5% unemployment rate climbs to 15.6% if we include those who are working part-time but want full-time employment, or those who’ve simply given up. This number, often referred to as the U6 measure, was under 10% a year ago.

In all, to date the U.S. has lost 5.1 million jobs since the start of the current recession, more than 2 million in the first quarter of 2009.

We knew the March numbers would be abysmal, but as I mentioned last month, that doesn’t make the news any less painful.

Update: Chart by way of the Washington Post, relying on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.