August jobless rate biggest in six years

Saturday, September 8, 2001

WASHINGTON -- The nation's unemployment rate swelled to 4.9 percent in August as job losses in manufacturing passed 1 million for the yearlong national slowdown. The increase in the monthly jobless rate was the biggest in six years.

The report Friday virtually guaranteed further interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve to try to revive the economy, analysts said.

Businesses slashed 113,000 jobs from their payrolls last month, the Labor Department reported. The jobless rate rose by 0.4 percentage point from 4.5 percent in July, the level it had held since April.

August unemployment figures for Missouri were not immediately available. Missouri's July jobless rate of 4.3 percent meant about 128,300 Missourians were out of work.

"The slowdown is real and it's affecting too many lives and we're concerned about it," President Bush said at the White House after meeting with anxious Republican leaders.

The jobless report sent stocks tumbling on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average closed down almost 235 points, coming within striking distance of its low for the year. The Standard & Poor's 500 index closed at its lowest level in nearly three years.

"'Ugly' is not a strong enough term to describe this report," said Joel Naroff, president and chief economist of Naroff Economic Advisors. "It was brutal."

The unemployment report tends to indicate where the economy has been rather than where it is going. The jobless rate often continues rising even after the economy starts to improve, reflecting the fact that businesses are afraid to hire back workers until they are certain the rebound is sustainable.

Spending a concern

But economists were worried about the report's effect on consumers, whose spending has kept the economy afloat during the sluggish past year.

"When the economy needs consumers' support most, this bad news comes along," said Richard Yamarone, economic research director for Argus Research Co.

The Federal Reserve has reduced interest rates seven times this year to ward off recession. Analysts are expecting at least a quarter-point cut at the Fed's Oct. 2 meeting, if not a return to the half-point moves of earlier in the year.

The Bush administration is counting on the Fed's aggressive credit easing as well as federal tax rebate checks to help revive the economy. Republicans, with an eye toward next year's midterm elections, see trouble if conditions worsen.

"I want the American people to know we're deeply concerned about the unemployment rates, and we intend to do something about it," Bush said.

Democrats sought to tie the rising rate to the White House and the dwindling federal surplus.

"I think it's a reflection, unfortunately, of the Bush budget and Bush economy," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

Manufacturing losses

In August, manufacturing was once again hardest hit, shedding 141,000 jobs, the biggest one-month loss so far this year. Virtually every major manufacturing industry lost jobs. Since July 2000, manufacturing employment has plummeted by more than 1 million. But gains in the service sector helped offset those losses.

The overall decline of 113,000 jobs in August followed a revised 13,000 increase in July. The 4.9 percent unemployment rate was the highest since September 1997 and marked a pronounced decay from the three-decade low of 3.9 percent posted in several months last year.

The 0.4 percentage point increase in the overall rate was the biggest one-month rise since a similar surge in April 1995.

Just this week, Motorola Inc. announced it would cut 2,000 more jobs. Insurance giant American International Group said it was cutting 1,500, and as Hewlett-Packard and Compaq merge, the companies say they will be cutting 15,000 jobs.

Some analysts expect the jobless rate to rise above 5 percent before recovery begins to be felt.

"It's always darkest before the dawn -- that's one metaphor that is particularly relevant here," said Ken Mayland, president of ClearView Economics.

Computer services experienced the first drop in jobs since the late 1980s, losing 5,000 last month. One of the reasons the Fed has cited for cutting interest rates is its concern about slumping investment by businesses in computers and other high-tech equipment.

The biggest declines in manufacturing last month were in durable goods, with 25,000, and industrial machinery and electrical equipment, with 19,000. Furniture had its largest decline this year, shedding 10,000 jobs.

The service sector, the engine of job creation in the United States, increased by 72,000 as health services continued to add jobs with 32,000. Hospitals accounted for about half of that.

Retail employment was down in August as restaurants and bars lost 30,000 jobs after a large increase in July. Hotel employment also continued to fall and was down 42,000 since March.

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