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Nation's Unemployment At 14-Year High


From NPR News, this is All Thins Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris. Barack Obama faces a lot of unknowns as he prepares to take office in January. But one thing is certain, an economic mess of staggering proportions awaits the president-elect.

SIEGEL: Today, Mr. Obama met with his economics advisers, who's who of business and government. And afterwards, he said, this morning's unemployment report was sobering reminder.

President-Elect BARACK OBAMA (United States of America): Tens of millions of families are struggling to figure out how to pay the bills and stay in their homes. Their stories are an urgent reminder that we are facing the greatest economic challenge of our lifetime

SIEGEL: We'll have more in a moment and what the president-elect had to say about the economy.

NORRIS: First that unemployment report from the labor department. It showed that employers cut 240,000 jobs in October. The unemployment rate hit a 14-year high of 6.5 percent. As NPR's Jim Zarroli reports, it's the latest evidence of how sharply growth has slowed.

JIM ZARROLI: Today's report depicts a slow down in the jobs market that has been both broad and dramatic. There were job cuts in nearly every sector of the economy, including manufacturing, construction, and business services. Richie Yamarone is chief economist at Argus Research.

Mr. RICHIE YAMARONE (Chief Economist, Argus Research): In essence there was nothing encouraging in this report. It paints a picture of a very disheartening jobs climate and from what I'm seeing in the tea leaves right, now. There's very little to expect, that's there's anything better down the road.

ZARROLI: Yameron says the losses were unexpectedly steep in the retail industry, from car dealers to clothing stores. Retailers have been slashing jobs.

Mr. YAMARONE: Consumers are not going out and spending, so you don't need to employ people to stand around and fold shirts if there's no one coming in to the store to buy them.

ZARROLI: Not only were October's job losses steeper than expected, but the losses for August and September were worst than the government first estimated. All told the economy has loss 1.2 million jobs this year. And the losses have really accelerated since the down turn in the stock market got underway almost two months ago.

Mr. YAMARONE: But the disheartening thing about this whole situation is that it happened so quickly. It seems as if, someone flicked the off switch on the US economy on September 15th.

ZARROLI: The slow down in the jobs market ratchets up the pressure on President-elect Obama to find away to turn the economy around. And today's Labor Department report was the first thing he mentioned in his very first news conference since his election. But the swiftness of the payroll decline this fall, suggests that he has his worked cut out for him.

Mr. YAMARONE: What we had is an economy that's in trouble and there's no easy way out, there's no quick way out. There's no painless way out.

ZARROLI: Ken Goldstein is an economist at the conference board. He says the tight credit markets have forced businesses to cut back on capital spending and hire fewer people. And with jobs growing more scarce, consumers have less money to spend.

Mr. KEN GOLDSTEIN (Economist): This is just too bigger problem to expect anything the government does or anything that any individual business does, to really, you know, turn this around in the next three to six months. That's just asking for too much.

ZARROLI: Goldstein says the only positive sign for the US economy right now is that oil prices have fallen, which will give people a bit more breathing room to pay bills. But with the weak job market he said, it will take a lot more than that to get consumers spending again and to really meet the economic challenges ahead. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.
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