U.S. jobless rate surges to 10.2 percent

WASHINGTON Fri Nov 6, 2009 4:45pm EST

1 of 8. A resident searches for jobs on a computer at Workforce Alliance in West Palm Beach, Florida, July 2, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Joe Skipper

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. jobless rate unexpectedly jumped to 10.2 percent last month, a 26-1/2-year high, adding to pressure on the Obama administration to do more to tackle unemployment even as signs of recovery mount.

The Labor Department said on Friday that employers cut 190,000 jobs in October, more than the 175,000 markets had expected but fewer than the 219,000 jobs lost in September.

Job losses for August and September were revised to show 91,000 fewer jobs were lost than previously reported, taking some of the sting out of the report.

While the revisions hinted at some improvement, economists had expected the jobless rate to rise to 9.9 percent from September's 9.8 percent. A wider gauge of labor-market slack that includes unemployed Americans who have given up looking for work hit a record 17.5 percent.

Speaking at the White House, President Barack Obama said the administration was considering infrastructure investments and business tax cuts to aid the economy's recovery.

"I can promise you that I won't let up until the Americans who want to find work can find work and all Americans can earn enough to raise their families and keep their businesses open," he said. For a graphic of the jobless rate over time, please see: here

Stocks on Wall Street ended higher after initially falling as investors looked past the jump in the jobless rate and focused instead on the moderation in payroll losses.

U.S. Treasury debt prices rose as traders saw the data as supporting a prolonged period of low interest rates.

"Unfortunately, the problem is becoming deeper and more protracted," Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive of bond giant Pacific Investment Management Co (PIMCO) told Reuters.

"It's not just the increase in the headline number," he said. "It's also about the longer-term nature of unemployment, the increase in underemployment and the prospect for only a very gradual recovery," he said.

While Obama sees job creation as his top priority, the scope for further steps to boost the economy is limited by record budget deficits.

Rising unemployment could pose problems for the Democrats who control Congress as they head into elections in November 2010. This week, Republicans wrested control of two state governorships away from Democrats in races where the weak economy figured prominently.

"President Obama promised jobs during his campaign for president and the elections in Virginia and New Jersey on Tuesday were a clear referendum on his failure to deliver on this promise," Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said in a statement reacting to the jobs report.

ECONOMY GROWING, LABOR MARKET LAGS

The U.S. economy grew at a 3.5 percent annual rate in the third quarter, likely ending the most painful recession in 70 years, but the jobs data suggested employers are wary of the prospects for a strong, sustained recovery.

A report from the Federal Reserve showed households again cut their debt rather than spend in September, pushing down total consumer credit for an eighth straight month. That is the longest downward streak since 1943.

The U.S. central bank on Wednesday held overnight interest rates close to zero and said it expected to keep them low for an "extended period."

Short-term interest rate futures prices showed the implied chances of a rate hike by mid-2010 slid to about 66 percent on Friday from 84 percent late on Thursday.

"I don't know how in the heck the Fed could justify tightening policy with the unemployment rate over 10 percent unless we have an imminent inflation danger," said Keith Hembre, chief economist at First American Funds in Minneapolis.

The U.S. Labor Department conducts two separate surveys. Economists generally place more faith in the survey of employers, which found the loss of 190,000 jobs.

The unemployment rate, however, is based on a smaller household survey. That survey showed 589,000 jobs were lost, while few Americans left the labor force, leading to the big jump in the jobless rate.

Employer payrolls have declined for 22 consecutive months now and 7.3 million people have lost their jobs since December 2007, when the recession started. In October, 35.6 percent of the unemployed had been out of work for six months or more.

However, the pace of layoffs has slowed sharply from early this year.

Job losses in October were widespread across almost all sectors, with education and health services and professional and business services bucking the trend.

Manufacturing employment fell 61,000 last month, while construction industries payrolls dropped 62,000. The service-providing sector cut 61,000 workers.

Offering a glimmer of hope, temporary help jobs increased by 34,000. It was the biggest gain in temporary employment since the economy fell into recession and suggested companies needed extra hands even if they were not prepared to hire permanently.

The average workweek, which yields clues as to when firms will start hiring, was steady at 33 hours. Average hourly earnings rose to $18.72 from $18.67 in September.

A separate report from the Commerce Department showed wholesalers reduced their stocks of unsold goods for the 13th straight month in September. Economists expect a rebuilding of depleted inventories to help support recovery. (Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert in Washington, Richard Leong, Lynn Adler and Jennifer Ablan in New York; Editing by Kenneth Barry)