Three months: Two million jobs gone

The only good news about the February unemployment report? We already knew it was going to be terrible.

Published March 6, 2009 2:41PM (EST)

The only good news about the miserable jobs report for February? Everybody was expecting horrible numbers, so the market reaction may be muted. (Indeed, minutes after the opening bell, the Dow was up 45 points. But don't expect the enthusiasm to last very long.)

And horrible they were. The unemployment rate jumped half a point, to 8.1 percent. Non-farm payroll employment fell by 651,000, which was something of a shocker, because that's exactly what labor market watchers were predicting.

The number of unemployed persons increased by 851,000 to 12.5 million in February... Over the past 12 months, the number of unemployed persons has increased by about 5.0 million, and the unemployment rate has risen by 3.3 percentage points.

Oh, and as for December and January, which we already knew were really bad?

The change in total nonfarm employment for December was revised from -577,000 to -681,000 and the change for January was revised from -598,000 to -655,000.

That's nearly two million jobs lost in just three months. One could, I suppose, look for a glimmer of hope in the fact that the 651,000 jobs lost in February is lower than the revised number of jobs lost in December and January. But if these February numbers suffer a similar revision when March's figures come along, we could be looking at over 700,000 jobs lost in February, the shortest month of the year.

UPDATE: Justin Fox crunches the numbers and concludes that the current labor force contraction is now worse than what occurred in the 1981-82 recession, and, barring an extraordinarily unlikely swift turnaround, will end up "much worse."

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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