This article was reported by Louis Uchitelle, Edmund L. Andrews and Stephen Labaton and written by Mr. Uchitelle.
The government’s report of a giant job loss in November, the biggest monthly decline in a generation, puts more pressure on Congress and the administration to move quickly on a stimulus package, mortgage relief and perhaps financial aid for Detroit’s big automakers.
The nation’s employers cut 533,000 jobs in November, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.
Not since December 1974, toward the end of a severe recession, have so many jobs disappeared in a single month — and the current recession, far from ending, appears to be just gathering steam.
“We are caught in a downward spiral in which employment, incomes and spending are collapsing together,” said Nigel Gault, chief domestic economist for IHS Global Insight. “With private spending frozen, we have no choice but to rely on a stimulus package to revive the economy.”
The unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent, up just two-tenths of a percentage point from October, but up six-tenths over the last three months. More than 420,000 men and women who had been working or seeking work in October left the labor force in November.
More significantly, the unemployment rate does not include those too discouraged to look for work any longer or those working fewer hours than they would like. Add those people to the roster of the unemployed, and the rate hit a record 12.5 percent in November, up 1.5 percentage points since September.
Noting that 1.9 million jobs have been lost since the start of the recession a year ago — two-thirds of them since September — President-elect Barack Obama invoked public spending as the best way to get a dead-in-the-water economy moving again. “This painful crisis,” he said in a statement, is an opportunity “to improve the lives of ordinary people by rebuilding roads and modernizing schools for our children,” and by investing in clean energy projects.
A goal of all this spending is to generate 2.5 million jobs over the next two years, he said, repeating an earlier pledge. Given the accelerating job losses, hitting that target would barely recover the jobs that have disappeared over the last year.
As part of Friday’s announcement, the government revised higher its estimates of jobs lost in September and October. Instead of 524,000 jobs disappearing in those months, 723,000 were lost, or a total of 1.2 million jobs in just three months. In all, jobs have been lost in each of the last 11 months.
“Obama is being deliberately unclear about those 2.5 million jobs,” said Robert Pollin, a University of Massachusetts economist. “He is not going to add 2.5 million on top of recovering the 1.9 million that have been lost so far this year.”
Despite the deterioration of the labor market, Democrats in Congress and a lame-duck president remain in a standoff over rescue measures.
At its core, the stalemate between the Republicans and the Democrats springs from fundamentally different views about the nature of the crisis and the role of government in resolving it. The White House contends that it has rightly focused on the credit and housing markets, while the Democrats see economic problems that can be resolved only through broader intervention.
New efforts to adopt a broad economic package are likely to wait until the new president takes office and Democrats have bigger majorities in Congress. That delay poses the possibility of a deeper recession, according to some experts.
President Bush, appearing in front of cameras on Friday morning at the White House, said he was “concerned about our workers who have lost jobs.” But he offered no hint of softening his opposition to either a stimulus package or a bailout of the automobile industry, saying that the measures already put in place by the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve to ease credit problems would take time to work.
Shortly after his appearance, a White House spokesman, Scott Stanzel, dashed any expectation of a change in policy when he said that officials expected a stimulus package would “happen in the next administration.”
Support is building for a significant stimulus package as the economy slips into a deep recession. Most forecasters expect the gross domestic product to contract in the current fourth quarter at an annual rate of 4 or 5 percent, and continue to contract through most of next year, shrinking by 2 percent for all of 2009 — a contraction that has occurred only once since World War II: in 1982, a year of severe recession.
“If there was any doubt that a very large fiscal stimulus is required, then the numbers we have been getting recently should dispel that doubt,” said Jan Hatzius, chief domestic economist for Goldman Sachs. To offset the private sector retrenchment, he added, “we will need a stimulus package of $600 billion at an annual rate, or $1.2 trillion over two years.”
Economists and policy makers increasingly share his estimate of what it will take to revive America’s $14 trillion economy, with Democratic leaders talking recently about a stimulus package of $400 billion or more.
Though any broad economic package seems to be delayed, Democrats still had faint hopes of approving next week a rescue package for the car companies. Their goal would be to prevent far more rapid deterioration in the job market.
The latest job numbers were stark evidence of a breakdown in consumer spending and business investment since mid-September, when the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve decided to let Lehman Brothers fail, delivering a shock to the financial sector. Almost simultaneously, stock prices began a free fall, undermining the wealth and the retirement accounts of millions of Americans.
“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.
Job loss has played a big role in this erosion, he acknowledged. But so have fewer hours of work, smaller bonuses, less overtime, falling home prices, falling stock prices and a drumbeat of job cut announcements — the most recent, this week, from big names like AT&T, Viacom, CVS, DuPont and the Avis Budget Group.
The Dow Jones industrial average, down more than 20 percent since mid-September, fell Friday morning in response to the November jobs report, but recovered later and gained 259.18 points, or 3 percent, by the end of trading, to close at 8,635.42.
With home prices still in decline, one in 10 mortgage holders was either delinquent on loans in September or in foreclosure, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported Friday. That was up from 9.2 percent in June and the highest percentage since the association began to collect this data 30 years ago.
The mortgage crisis makes lenders ever more reluctant to lend for the purchase of homes, autos and other big consumer items. In more normal times, lenders bundle these loans into securities and sell them. The buyers of these securities have disappeared in the current credit crisis, however, and the Federal Reserve is considering ways for lenders to borrow from the Fed, using the securities as collateral.
Jobs disappeared last month from every sector of the economy except health care and state government, which mainly added educators. The biggest losses were in manufacturing, construction, retailing — despite the first month of Christmas shopping — financial services, hotel and restaurant work and temporary workers. Over the course of the recession, 604,000 jobs — nearly one-third of the total — have been eliminated in manufacturing, and the Big Three automakers promise more layoffs to qualify for a federal bailout.
“Business shut down in November,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com. “Businesses are in survival mode and are slashing jobs and investment to conserve cash. Unless credit starts flowing soon, big job losses will continue well into next year.”
The administration says its recent actions are beginning to make credit flow more easily. “We are pulling some very significant levers on the economy right now, through what we’re doing with Treasury and what we’re doing with the Fed,” said Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman.Jack Healy contributed reporting.