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Jobless Rate Rises To 6.7 Percent

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. More than half a million jobs - that's how many were slashed in November, making it the worst month in the job market in 34 years. Unemployment now stands at 6.7 percent. Economists say the numbers underestimate the trouble for workers, as NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI: Economists had predicted a weak employment report, and it proved to be even worse than anyone expected. Nearly every sector of the economy shed jobs, including manufacturing, construction, business services and retail. Sung Won Sohn is a professor of economics and finance at California State University.

Dr. SUNG WON SOHN (Economics and Finance, California State University-Channel Islands): These are really god-awful numbers. The economy's headed downhill, and really, the breaks are not working.

ZARROLI: Not only was the November payroll report weaker than expected; the government also raised its estimate of the number of jobs lost in September and October. The U.S. economy has now lost about 2.7 million jobs since the recession got under way a year ago. Ray Ross lost his job as a security guard in Nashville. His former employer has put him on call, but he's not getting much work.

Mr. RAY ROSS (Job Seeker, Nashville, Tennessee): Right now, I would take anything. I'm going down to - I'll go down to $7 - $6, $7 now just to have a job.

ZARROLI: Ross is still looking for work, but some of those who lose their jobs have given up the fight. The Labor Department said there are more than 600,000 discouraged workers. That's up from about 259,000 a year ago. There are also a lot of workers who are scraping by on part-time jobs, but would prefer to work full time. Edward Stewart Jr. has been subsisting on odd jobs in Kansas City, but he'd really like to find something better.

Mr. EDWARD STEWART JR. (Job Seeker, Kansas City, Missouri): Right now, I'm searching the Web and trying to make some phone calls to try to get some work for, like, a janitorial service maybe or, you know, whatever comes up.

ZARROLI: When workers like Stewart are taken into account, the labor market is actually a lot weaker than it appears, says California State University's Sung Won Sohn.

Dr. SOHN: When you add these part-timers and people who left the labor force, that is called the effective unemployment rate. In November, it was 12-and-a-half percent.

ZARROLI: The weak-jobs number comes during a week when the CEOs of the major U.S. auto companies are in Washington, pleading for financial assistance from Congress. Lawmakers have responded to the request coldly, but the report underscores how vital the auto industry is to the U.S. economy. One reason the retail sector suffered so much was an unusually steep drop in employment by auto dealers. The report will make it tougher for Congress to turn the automakers down. President Bush today said the jobs report reflects the fact that the economy is in a recession, and he pointed to the many steps taken by the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department.

(Soundbite of press conference)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: It's going to take time for all the actions we've taken to have their full impact, but I am confident that the steps we're taking will help fix the problems in our economy.

ZARROLI: But the measures taken so far have been slow to work, and it's now certain that the new administration will inherit an economy that is much more troubled than anyone thought possible a year ago. The deterioration in the labor market only ratchets up the pressure on President-elect Obama to get some sort of economic stimulus plan approved as fast as possible. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.