US Jobless rate climbs to 8.9%

There was a slight easing in job losses last month as revised figures for March showed a decline of 699.00 jobs (up from 663,000 originally reported) to April's 539,000 job cuts. The overall rate stands at 8.9% - bad but not as bad as the recession of 1980-82 that saw unemployment top out at 10.8%. (Note: Since more people are working today, the actual number of unemployed today is larger than the numbers back then.)

Some economists are saying that we are close to reaching bottom in the recession as Jack Healy of the New York Times reports:

"It's a confirmation that we're in the early stages of a turn," said Ethan Harris, co-head of United States economic research at Barclays Capital. "We've just had a big dose of monetary and fiscal stimulus, and we're getting further and further removed form the confidence shock of last fall. All these forces are sort of gathering right now."

The credit markets, where the financial crisis began, have stabilized after a vast support effort from the government and central banks, and some lending is gradually returning to normal. Consumer spending is no longer plunging, and buyers are coming back to some battered housing markets, even as home prices continue to fall nationwide. All of that may not comfort the 13.7 million unemployed people in the United States or the thousands more who could lose their jobs in the months ahead as General Motors and Chrysler try to restructure. Still, economists said the figures offered a rare signal that the labor market was not tumbling quite as fast.

Businesses are no longer slashing payrolls at the frantic clip of the last four months, when jobs vanished at a rate of more than 650,000 every month - including 741,000 jobs lost in January - as employers froze wages, demanded pay cuts and ordered sweeping layoffs to cut their budgets.

It can't be the stim bill - most of that spending hasn't even been used yet. More likely, companies aren't sloughing off jobs as fast because they've already achieved the savings they need to survive.

And the tax cut has probably helped as well.

As for the credit markets, all that cash we pumped into them should be showing a lot more for the buck. It begs the question of what would have happened if we had simply allowed nature to take its course and those weak banks and credit firms were allowed to fail rather than receive bail out money. How much worse - or better - might things be now?

We'll never know.

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