TOPICS > Economy

U.S. Unemployment Climbs to 8.9%

May 8, 2009 at 6:00 PM EDT
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Kwame Holman reports on the latest unemployment numbers and how the White House plans to aid the jobless.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: U.S. unemployment is still climbing to nearly 9 percent, the highest in a quarter-century. But the pace of layoffs may be easing.

That was the gist today of the government’s latest look at jobs and the economy. Kwame Holman has our lead story report.

KWAME HOLMAN: After 18 months of recession, the report showed another 539,000 jobs eliminated in April. But that was considered a better-than-expected number after losses that topped 600,000 jobs in each of the last six months.

Obama administration officials and some economic analysts sounded guardedly optimistic notes amid the continuing losses.

Still, at a monthly meeting of the Joint Economic Committee, the head of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Keith Hall, counseled caution.

KEITH HALL, Commissioner, Bureau of Labor Statistics: I think just what everybody else has seen, you know, some small glimmers of hope, perhaps, in construction, but I don’t know that we have a real pattern yet. It’s kind of like consumer spending. We’ve seen consumer spending tick up, but what we really need to see is, we need to see both those things continue to improve.

KWAME HOLMAN: One of the few job sectors adding workers: the federal government, where employment rose by 70,000 last month. Most of those hires were temporary for next year’s once-a-decade census.

Even with the census hiring, the unemployment rate pushed up nearly half a point to 8.9 percent last month. But an even worse number lurks behind that figure: 15.8 percent of Americans, nearly 14 million people, now are out of work, underemployed, or so discouraged they no longer even are looking for a job.

BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: And now is the time to change unemployment from a period of wait-and-see to a chance for our workers to train and seek the next opportunity.

KWAME HOLMAN: In an effort to assist job-seekers, President Obama today announced changes to promote better and expanded job training.

BARACK OBAMA: Say an unemployed factory worker wants to upgrade his skills to become a mechanic or a technician. In many states, that worker might lose temporary financial support if he enrolls in a training program. Well, that doesn’t make much sense for our economy or our country.

So we’re going to change it. First, we’ll open new doors to higher education and job-training programs to recently laid-off workers who are receiving unemployment benefits. And if those displaced workers need help paying for their education, they should get it.

KWAME HOLMAN: Underscoring the point, today’s numbers show a daunting education gap in unemployment: More than 4 percent of college degree-holders are jobless, but that compares to nearly 15 percent for those without a high school degree.

And government and private estimates suggest there is worse to come, with job losses mounting well into next year.