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US jobless figures hit record levels as recession deepens

THE unemployment rate in the United States climbed to the highest level since 1992 last month and payrolls tumbled as the recession showed no sign of abating.

The jobless rate rose to 7.6 percent from 7.2 percent in December, the Labor Department said yesterday in Washington. Payrolls fell by 598,000, the biggest monthly decline since December 1974, after dropping by 577,000 in the previous month.

The loss of jobs, at employers ranging from manufacturers like Caterpillar Inc to retailers such as Macy's Inc, is shattering consumer confidence and crippling spending. President Barack Obama is likely to use the first employment report since he took office to prod lawmakers into agreeing on a compromise economic stimulus package by the end of this month.

"We're losing jobs at an alarming pace and bracing for more weakness," Scotvt Anderson, senior economist at Wells Fargo & Co in Minneapolis, told Bloomberg News. "The private sector is flat on its back at this point."

"The government needs to step in with a stimulus, the sooner the better."

With a revised decline of 597,000 jobs in November, revisions subtracted 66,000 workers from previously reported payroll figures for the last two months of last year. The US economy has now lost a total of 3.57 million jobs since the recession started in December 2007, the biggest employment slump of any economic contraction postwar.

Last month's losses mark the first time since records began in 1939 that job cuts exceeded half a million in three consecutive months.

Payrolls at builders declined 111,000 after decreasing 86,000.

Service industries, which include banks, insurance companies, restaurants and retailers, subtracted 279,000 workers after cutting 327,000. Retail payrolls decreased by 45,100 after a decline of 82,700. Financial firms reduced payrolls by 42,000, after a 27,000 decrease the prior month. Government payrolls increased by 6,000 after shrinking by 10,000 the prior month.

Saks Inc, Target Corp, Starbucks Corp and Home Depot Inc last month reported plans to reduce workers.


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