California Was Among States With Record Unemployment

Bloomberg (Link) - Courtney Schlisserman (November 20, 2009)

California, Delaware, South Carolina and Florida registered record rates of unemployment in October as weakness in the labor market stretches from coast to coast and limits the economic recovery.

Joblessness rose in 29 U.S. states last month compared with 22 in September, the Labor Department said today in Washington. Michigan had the highest jobless rate at 15.1 percent, followed by Nevada at 13 percent and Rhode Island at 12.9 percent.

The national rate last month reached a 26-year high of 10.2 percent, weighing on consumer spending that accounts for about 70 percent of the economy. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said Nov. 17 that joblessness �likely will decline only slowly,� a reason policy makers will keep interest rates near zero to ensure growth is sustained.

�We�ve had a surprisingly sharp jump in the jobless rate,� said Richard DeKaser, president of Woodley Park Research in Washington. �Businesses have truly been doing an extraordinary job of wringing out productivity from the labor force.�

Stocks fell for a third day, with the Standard & Poor�s 500 Index declining 0.3 percent to 1,091.38 at 4:03 p.m. in New York. Dell Inc., the third-largest maker of personal computers, dropped 10 percent after reporting a 54 percent drop in profit.

Declines in 13 States

The unemployment rate fell in 13 states, including Massachusetts, where it declined to 8.9 percent from 9.3 percent; New Hampshire, with a drop to 6.8 percent from 7.2 percent; and West Virginia, which fell to 8.5 percent from 8.9 percent.

The number of states with at least 10 percent unemployment held at 14 last month, the Labor Department�s report showed. The states reporting a record jobless rate were California at 12.5 percent, South Carolina at 12.1 percent, Florida at 11.2 percent and Delaware at 8.7 percent. The District of Columbia also set a high with an 11.9 percent rate.

�Virtually every sector aside from the health-care sector is losing jobs,� said Sean Snaith, University of Central Florida economist in Orlando. �Housing has been central to Florida�s economic story throughout the entire cycle. Unfortunately, it has spread well beyond the sectors directly involved in the housing market.�

President Barack Obama on Nov. 6 signed into law a plan to extend jobless benefits, expand a tax credit for first-time homebuyers and provide tax refunds to money-losing companies. The measure gives jobless people as many as 20 additional weeks of unemployment assistance.

The president has also announced plans to convene a jobs summit at the White House next month.

State Payrolls

Payrolls declined last month in 21 states, today�s report showed. New York showed the biggest drop, with a loss of 15,300. Florida had 8,500 job losses, followed by Georgia with 7,500 and Virginia with 7,100.

�When you apply for a job, because there are so many other people looking for jobs, you have to be the absolute perfect candidate and lucky, or be someone�s brother-in-law, to get a job,� said Mary Kough of Tellico Plains, Tennessee. �In this economy there are very few jobs for which to even apply.�

Kough has been looking for work for four months, applying for as many as 25 positions. She�s been interviewed once. The 47-year-old said she has about 20 years of experience, including jobs as a customer service manager, supervisor and purchasing agent. Tennessee�s unemployment rate held at 10.5 percent in October, the Labor Department�s report showed.

Taking Comfort

�I try not to get discouraged,� Kough said. �I know that you will get a certain percentage of what you apply for, and since there are less jobs to apply for, I know it will just take a little longer. I take comfort in knowing that. I have faith.�

Applied Materials Inc. is among companies still planning to cut jobs. The world�s biggest maker of chip equipment, based in Santa Clara, California, said Nov. 11 it plans to eliminate as many as 1,500 positions within 18 months.

Over the last year, California showed the biggest loss of jobs, with payrolls falling by 687,700 workers, today�s report showed.

Nationally, payrolls fell by 190,000 in October, the Labor Department said Nov. 6. The U.S. has lost 7.3 million jobs since the start of the recession in December 2007, the most of any downturn since the Great Depression.

Other measures corroborate that while firms are firing fewer workers, it is harder for the unemployed to find work. The number of people getting extended payments jumped in the week ended Oct. 31 even as the number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits held at a 10-month low last week, according to government data released yesterday.