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US unemployment highest since 1983

Some 4.4 million jobs have disappeared since the recession began in 2007.

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Unemployed worker Lamarr Devalle gets training on a computer at JobTrain employment office in Menlo Park, Calif., Wednesday. Employers last month slashed 651,000 jobs, the government reported Friday.

Paul Sakuma/AP

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The nation’s jobless problem is getting worse.

Layoffs are spreading to almost every sector of the economy as businesses cope with falling orders and rising losses. The economy has lost 4.4 million jobs since the recession began in 2007, more than in any other postwar recession. Most economists say they don’t expect to see much improvement over the short term.

The unemployment rate in February hit 8.1 percent, the government reported on Friday. That's the highest level since 1983 when the rate was 8.3 percent. At the same time, there was a net loss of 651,000 jobs in February, about on par with January and December, whose losses were more severe by a revised total of 161,000 jobs.

“We knew it would get worse before it gets better and this is worse,” says Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh. “There has been an amazing sharp and steady decline in jobs for the last four months and there is almost no place to hide.”

Even temp jobs cut

The economy last month experienced job losses in construction (104,000 jobs), manufacturing (168,000), retailers (40,000), and professional services (188,000). Companies also cut 80,000 temporary jobs.

“That means companies are cutting way back to the core,” says Andrew Stettner of the New York-based National Employment Law Project, which advocates for the jobless.

The only sectors adding jobs were education, health services. and government. This has been the case for the last several months.

A broader measure of the jobs picture, which includes people who have stopped looking for work and people who are involuntarily working part-time, also deteriorated last month, jumping nearly a full percentage point to 14.8 percent from 13.9 percent. The economy has now lost 4.4 million jobs since December 2007, considered the start of the recession.

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