8.5 Percent Jobless Rate, Highest Since 1983 The nation's unemployment rate soared in March as employers slashed 663,000 jobs. Government figures show the jobless rate is at 8.5 percent — the highest level since 1983. It is one more sign of the toll that the recession is taking on the U.S. economy.

8.5 Percent Jobless Rate, Highest Since 1983

NPR's Jim Zarroli And Renee Montagne Discuss The Jobs Report

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The nation's unemployment rate soared in March as employers slashed 663,000 jobs. Government figures show the jobless rate is at 8.5 percent — the highest level since 1983. It is one more sign of the toll that the recession is taking on the U.S. economy.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Here in the U.S., the Labor Department said this morning that the nation's unemployment rate climbed to eight and a half percent last month. That's its highest level since 1983, and it's one more sign of the toll that the recession is taking on the U.S. economy. NPR's Jim Zarroli is covering this story and joins us now. Good morning.

JIM ZARROLI: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: How widespread were the job cuts and break it down for us a little bit where they were.

ZAROLLI: I spoke with Richard Yamarone who's the chief economist at Argus Research a little while ago. Here's what he had to say about the report.

RICHARD YAMARONE: It is such a steep decline in activity. The economy is just shedding jobs in an accelerated pace. So this is - it's really disheartening. It's not encouraging news, certainly, as we head into the summer months.

ZAROLLI: They always talk about this long, the long tentacles that the auto industry has throughout the economy and here's some evidence of that. But, really, every part of the economy eliminated jobs - except for education and health care.

MONTAGNE: Adding in these new numbers that we're getting this morning, how many jobs has this recession now cost the economy?

ZAROLLI: And here's another statistic. We now have a total of 13,200,000 unemployed people, and that doesn't even include the people who are working part time because they can't find full-time jobs, and also doesn't include all the people who have become so discouraged that they simply stop looking for work. They've walked away from the job market.

MONTAGNE: So, what light does that show, those numbers you've just given, on the ways in which employers are adjusting to the downturn?

ZAROLLI: We've seen some little glimmers of hope in the economy lately, some signs that the downturn is bottoming out - like better than expected factory orders report yesterday. But, really, what this says is that companies at least are still very pessimistic about the economy. They're feeling pinched and they're not going to start hiring again until they feel confident, which is why most economists say we're really not going to see the economy turn around until next year. And meanwhile, the unemployment rate could get to 10 percent.

MONTAGNE: Thank you, Jim.

ZAROLLI: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Jim Zarolli on news today that unemployment has jumped to eight and a half percent.

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