As I was preparing this blog for its official introduction to the world this morning, the news reports began pouring in that the nation's unemployment rate has passed that dreaded, yet anticipated, double-digit figure: the closely watched unemployment metric surged to 10.2% in October, the highest it's been in 26 years, the Labor Department reported this morning.
The unexpected sharp increase, from 9.8% in September, came as companies slashed 190,000 more jobs last month. "That was larger than the 175,000 job losses that most forecasters were expecting for the month, and it underscored just how dire the labor market remains despite the recent upturn in the nation's economic output," the Chicago Tribune's "Swamp" reported.
If workers too discouraged to seek work and those who want to work full-time, but have been forced to accept part-time jobs are included, the nation's unemployment and underemployment rate in October was actually 17.5%.
Although unemployment had increased steadily, the double-digit figure is expected to have a major psychological impact and could create potentially significant political consequences.
In apparent anticipation of the grim number, President Obama is expected this morning to sign a bill passed earlier this week by Congress that will extend jobless benefits to the long-term unemployed and expand tax-relief programs for homebuyers and businesses operating at a loss.
The last time the jobless rate crossed double digits was during the recession and initial recovery period of the early 1980s. Unemployment hit 10.1 percent in September 1982, rising to a high of 10.8 percent. It remained at or above 10% until June the following year, the Tribune reported. "This time around, unemployment has risen even faster and, by some analysts' reckoning, could hover around 10 percent for much longer," the newspaper's blog reported.
The jobless rate at the start of 2009 was 7.6%. Since then, the number of unemployed workers has increased by 8.2 million, to 15.7 million as of October, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
If those numbers aren't depressing enough, the "unofficial" labor situation is actually worse because the government doesn't count as "officially unemployed" the so-called discouraged workers, those who have given up looking for jobs. That figure in October was 808,000, a 40% increase over the 484,000 Americans who were too discouraged to continue to look for a job in October of last year.
And to add even more joy to your Friday, an additional 9.3 million people report that they are underemployed because their hours either have been cut or they can't find full-time work. "If this group, and discouraged workers are included, along with others on the fringe of the labor market, the nation's unemployment and underemployment rate in October was 17.5%," the Tribune reported.