RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And the question of whether the U.S. is in a recession could become a little clearer this morning when the government releases its latest unemployment numbers. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.
FRANK LANGFITT: The U.S. economy has been shedding jobs for four straight months. Analysts think employment fell again in May. Peter Morici is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Business.
Professor PETER MORICI (University of Maryland School of Business): Well, I expect the economy to lose more jobs, perhaps another 50,000.
LANGFITT: The last time the country lost so many jobs over five months was during the recession that began in 2001. So far this year, the economy has lost more than a quarter of a million jobs. That's not good, but it's not as bad as past downturns. Morici predicts this job slump won't be as deep as before, but it could drag on.
Professor MORICI: What we tend to do is slow down the workplace. We hire fewer people. We don't layoff a lot of people. So unemployment grows, but it grows modestly. Incomes lag but they don't drop.
LANGFITT: Even as analysts predict another job loss there's some hopeful signs. For one, fewer people signed up for unemployment benefits last week than the week before. And retail sales are up, according to a pair of private surveys. That could be a sign that people are spending some of their government stimulus checks and helping to prop-up an otherwise disappointing retail sector.
Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Washington.
The unemployment rate jumped by half a percentage point in May, with 8.5 million people out of work last month. The jump from 5 to 5.5 percent is the largest monthly increase since February of 1986.