With the economy deteriorating rapidly, the nation’s employers shed 533,000 jobs in November, the 11th consecutive monthly decline, the government reported Friday morning, and the unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent.
The decline, the largest since December 1974, was fresh evidence that the economic contraction accelerated in November, promising to make the current recession, already 12 months old, the longest since the Great Depression. The previous record was 16 months, in the severe recessions of the mid-1970s and early 1980s.
“We have recorded the largest decline in consumer confidence in our history,” said Richard T. Curtin, director of the Reuters/University of Michigan Survey of Consumers, which started its polling in the 1950s. “It is being driven down by a host of factors: falling home and stock prices, fewer work hours, smaller bonuses, less overtime and disappearing jobs.”
The employment report increased the likelihood that Congress, with the support of President-elect Barack Obama, will enact a stimulus package by late January that could exceed $500 billion over two years. More than half that money would probably be channeled into public infrastructure spending. Many economists consider such investments an effective way to counteract, through federally financed employment, the layoffs and hiring freezes spreading through the private sector.
“Basically $100 billion of public investment in such things as roads, bridges and levees would generate two million jobs,” Robert N. Pollin, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, said. “That would offset the two million jobs that we are now on track to lose by early next year.”
The manufacturing sector has been particularly hard hit, losing more than half a million jobs this year. That is nearly half the 1.2 million jobs lost since employment peaked in December and, in January, began its uninterrupted decline. The cutbacks seem likely to accelerate as the three Detroit automakers close more factories and shrink payrolls even more as they try to qualify for the federal loans they asked Congress this week to approve.
While manufacturing has led the way, the job cuts are rising in nearly every sector of the economy. “My sense is there is just a collapse in demand,” said Marc Levinson, research director for the union Unite Here, whose 450,000 members are spread across apparel manufacturing, hotels, casinos, industrial laundries, airport concessions and restaurants. “Our members are being laid off big time,” Mr. Levinson said.
The latest jobs report came during a week of compelling evidence that the American economy is falling precipitously. On Monday, the National Bureau of Economic Research ruled that a recession — the 12th since the Depression — had begun last December, even earlier than many people had thought.
That news was followed by fresh reports of cutbacks or declines in construction spending, home sales, consumer spending, business investment and exports. And companies in every industry sector announced layoffs this week, including AT&T, the telecommunications company, with 12,000 job cuts; DuPont, the chemical company, 2,500; and Viacom, the media company, 850.
Even retail sales in the Christmas season were off sharply. The International Council of Shopping Centers on Thursday described November sales at stores open at least a year as the weakest in more than 30 years.
With all this in mind, and particularly the shrinking employment rolls, economists are estimating that the gross domestic product is contracting at an annual rate of 4 percent or more in the fourth quarter, after a decline of 0.3 percent in the third quarter.
“Our G.D.P. forecast for 2009 is now minus 1.8 percent, rather than minus 1 percent,” HIS Global Insight, a forecasting and data gathering service, informed its clients in an e-mail message this week, explaining that all the latest bad news left it no choice but to issue a sharp downward revision.
“We see the unemployment rate at 8.6 percent by the end of 2009,” Global Insight said.