WASHINGTON (AP) - The nation's unemployment rate jumped to 8.5
percent in March, the highest since late 1983, as a wide range of employers eliminated a net total of 663,000 jobs.
The Labor Department's report is fresh evidence of the toll the recession has inflicted on America's workers and companies.
The latest tally of job losses, released Friday, was slightly higher than the 654,000 that economists expected. The rise in the unemployment rate matched expectations.
Since the recession began in December 2007, the economy has lost a net total of 5.1 million jobs, with almost two-thirds of the losses occurring in the last five months.
The number of unemployed people climbed to 13.2 million in March. In addition, the number of people forced to work part time for "economic reasons" rose by 423,000 to 9 million. That's people who would like to work full time but whose hours were cut back or were unable to find full-time work.
If part-time and discouraged workers are factored in, the unemployment rate would have been 15.6 percent in March, the highest on records dating to 1994.
The deterioration in the jobs market comes despite a few hopeful signs recently that the recession - now the longest since World War II - could be easing.
As the economic downturn eats into their sales and profits, companies are laying off workers and resorting to other cost-saving measures. Those include holding down hours, and freezing or cutting pay, to survive the storm.
The average work week in March dropped to 33.2 hours, a new record low.
Job losses were widespread last month. Construction companies cut 126,000 jobs. Factories axed 161,000. Retailers got rid of nearly 50,000. Professional and business services eliminated 133,000. Leisure and hospitality reduced employment by 40,000. Even the government cut jobs - 5,000 of them.
Education and health care were the few industries showing any job gains.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)