02-19-2017  1:19 pm      •     

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A staggering 2.6 million jobs disappeared in 2008, the most since World War II, and the pain is only getting worse with 11 million Americans out of work and searching. Unemployment hit a 16-year high of 7.2 percent in December and could be headed for 10 percent or even higher by year's end.
Friday's government figures were "a stark reminder," said President-elect Barack Obama, that bold and immediate government action is needed to revive a national economy that's deep in recession and still sinking.
More than a half million jobs melted away as winter took hold in December -- 524,000 in all, the government estimated -- and the true carnage will almost certainly turn out to be even worse when the figures are nailed down more clearly a month from now.
"Behind the statistics that we see flashing on the screens are real lives, real suffering, real fears," said Obama, already moving full-speed with Congress to put together an emergency revival plan a week and a half before taking office.
It's real, indeed, for 38-year-old Rachel Davis of St. Louis.
"If you get laid off right now, God help your soul," she said. "You better hope you've got savings or someone backing you." In fact, she was laid off three months ago after working as a dental technician for 20 years. While Congress and the new president struggle to find answers, she says, "I have no faith in this system" and plans to move out of the country in hopes of finding better luck.
The severe recession, which just entered its second year, is already the longest in a quarter-century and is likely to stretch well into this year. The fact that the country is battling a housing collapse, a lockup in lending and the worst financial crisis since the 1930s makes the downturn especially dangerous.
All the problems have forced consumers and companies alike to retrench, feeding into a vicious cycle that Washington policymakers are finding difficult to break.
Investors, too. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 143 points Friday to end the week down nearly 5 percent, the worst week since November.
The Labor Department's unemployment report showed widespread damage across U.S. industries and workers -- hitting blue-collar and white-collar workers, people without high school diplomas and those with college degrees.
"One word comes to mind -- dreadful," said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group.
And, there's no relief in sight. The New Year got off to a rough start with a flurry of big corporate layoffs, and there were more on Friday. Airplane maker Boeing Co. said it plans to cut about 4,500 jobs this year, and uniform maker G&K Services Inc. is eliminating 460 jobs.
Employers also are cutting workers' hours and forcing some to go part-time. The average work week in December fell to 33.3 hours, the lowest in records dating to 1964 -- and a sign of more job reductions in the months ahead since businesses tend to cut hours before eliminating positions entirely.
"There is no indication that the job situation would stabilize anytime soon," said Sung Won Sohn, economist at the Martin Smith School of Business at California State University. "This could turn out to be one of the worst economic setbacks since the Great Depression."
Economists predict a net total of 1.5 million to 2 million or more jobs will vanish in 2009, and the unemployment rate could hit 9 or 10 percent, underscoring the challenges Obama will face and the tough road ahead for job seekers.
All told, 11.1 million people were unemployed in December. An additional 8 million people were working part time -- a category that includes those who would like to work full time but whose hours were cut back or those who were unable to find full-time work. That was up sharply from 7.3 million in November.
If those part-time employees, discouraged workers and others are factored in, the unemployment rate would have been much higher -- 13.5 percent in December. That was the highest for that broader category in records going back to 1994.
Worried about the sinking economy and their own financial fortunes, companies are trimming payrolls as a way to cut costs. Government revisions showed losses in both October and November to be much deeper than previously reported.
"Clearly, the situation is dire, it is deteriorating, and it demands urgent action," Obama said Friday. "For the sake of our economy and our people, this is the moment to act, and to act without delay."
Obama, who takes over Jan. 20, is promoting a huge package of tax cuts and government spending that could total nearly $800 billion over two years. With add-ons by lawmakers, the package could swell to $850 billion or higher.
The unemployment rate zoomed from 6.8 percent in November, to 7.2 percent last month, the highest since January 1993.
The rate for Blacks climbed to 11.9 percent, the highest since the spring of 1994. The rate for Hispanics rose to 9.2 percent, the highest since May 1996. The rate for teenagers rose to 20.8 percent, the highest since September 1992.
Last year was the first that payrolls had fallen for a full year since 2002, and the loss was the most since 1945, when nearly 2.8 million jobs disappeared. Though the number of payroll jobs in the U.S. has more than tripled since then, losses of this magnitude are still brutal.
The nation's jobless rate averaged 5.8 percent for the year -- up sharply from 4.6 percent in 2007 and the highest since 2003.
During President George W. Bush's nearly eight years in office, a net total of 3 million jobs were created. In President Clinton's two terms, roughly 21 million jobs were generated.
Employment last month shrank in virtually every part of the economy -- construction companies, factories, mortgage brokers, banks, real-estate firms, accountants and bookkeepers, computer designers, architects and engineers, retailers, food services, temporary help firms, transportation, publishing and waste management. The few fields spared included education, health care and government.
The lost-job total for December probably understated the reality since some companies probably held off on layoffs around the holidays, economists said. Moreover, the government collects the payroll information around mid-month. So the full extent of the layoffs probably wasn't captured, making it even more likely there will be big reductions in January and that December's cuts will be revised upward.
Workers with jobs saw modest wage gains. Average hourly earnings rose to $18.36 in December, a 3.7 percent increase over the year. But high prices for energy and food through much of 2008 made people feel that their paychecks weren't stretching that far.
Corporate layoffs continue to pile up. Earlier this week, drugstore operator Walgreen Co., managed care provider Cigna Corp., aluminum producer Alcoa Inc., data-storage company EMC Corp., Intermec Inc., which makes electronic devices for tracking inventory, and computer products maker Logitech International announced major layoffs to cope with the recession.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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