BUSINESS
07/06/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Unemployment Rate Highest Since 1983: Comments Claim It's Good News

On Friday, the Labor Department announced terrible, terrible news: more than a quarter million people lost their jobs in May. But in a sign of how bad things are, commentators from all quarters are heralding the news as good.

The U.S. unemployment rate hit 9.4 percent in May as employers shed 345,000 jobs -- the highest since the recession of 1983, the Labor Department announced. The "silver living" is that the losses announced today are about half the monthly average for the past six months.

Friday's unemployment numbers came as a surprise. Private payroll firm ADP estimated that U.S. companies lost 532,000 jobs in its National Employment Report on Wednesday. Economists had made similar predictions.

"Job losses continued to be widespread in May, but the rate of decline moderated in construction and several service-providing industries," said Keith Hall, commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in a statement.

"The loss of 345,000 jobs in May -- 0.3% of employment -- makes this jobs report the second worst in a quarter century not including the current recession, but in today's economy a loss of only 345,000 jobs is welcome news," said Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute.

Of course, in a Wednesday conference call to help reporters throw cold water on overly cheery reactions to bad numbers, Shierholz stressed that regular folks wouldn't be seeing any economic benefit for a long time.

"After the 1990 recession unemployment rose for another 15 months, and after the 2001 recession, unemployment rose for another 19 months," Shierholz said. "If last two recessions any indication, unemployment will rise for at least another year."

A lot of people are unemployed now.

"The number of unemployed rose by 787,000 to 14.5 million," said Commissioner Hall. "Since the recession began, the jobless rate has increased by 4.5 percentage points, and the number of unemployed persons has grown by 7.0 million."

The number of long-term unemployed is also discouraging: "Among the unemployed, the number who have been out of work 27 weeks or more increased by 268,000 in May to 3.9 million. These long-term unemployed represented 2.5 percent of the laborforce, the highest proportion since 1983."

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