U.S. closes 2009 with larger-than-expected job loss

The U.S. economy made 2009 the worst year of employment losses since the Great Depression with an unexpectedly large drop of 85,000 jobs in December, according to government data released Friday. 

Although December's unemployment rate remained unchanged at 10%, it was only because scores of Americans, including many discouraged about being able to land a new job, stopped looking. By the government's definition, jobless Americans no longer actively looking for new work are not counted as "unemployed."

"The increased number of discouraged workers is masking the true extent of joblessness," Anne Kim, economic program director at Third Way, a Washington-based liberal policy think tank, told the Los Angeles Times.

Nationally, analysts had expected the economy to lose just 8,000 jobs in December. The loss of 85,000 was a setback after November, when, according to revised figures released Friday, the economy actually added 4,000 jobs, the first gains in nearly two years. "The labor market is getting better, but it is still a long way from being healthy again," Paul Ashworth, economist at Capital Economics Ltd., told the Associated Press.

Despite all of the grim news released this week, some economists said a recent trend of improvement remains in place. The economy lost an average of nearly 700,000 jobs in the first three months of last year, a figure that dropped to 69,000 in the fourth quarter.

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