An estimated 524,000 Americans who had jobs at Thanksgiving were unemployed by the New Year, according to a report by the Department of Labor.
The U.S. economy has lost jobs for 12 consecutive months, at an alarming pace. Since September, on average, 483,000 jobs were lost per month, or as many as 16,000 a day.
The Department of Labor's announcement brought the job loss total to 2.6 million in 2008. Unemployment levels rose to 7.2 percent, the highest since January 1993.
The losses make 2008 the worst year for layoffs since the end of World War II, when 2.75 million jobs were lost (that shrinkage was not owing so much to an economic slump, however, as to the exit of workers temporarily employed in war-related jobs). The December losses also show an accelerating number of layoffs in recent months, leaving the prospect for workers in 2009 that much more grim.
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Boeing became the latest corporate giant to cut jobs, announcing Friday that 4,500 Boeing workers will lose their jobs in 2009.
"We could quite possibly see unemployment close to 9 percent or even double digits by the end of the year," said Heather Boushey, an economist at the Center for American Progress.
Around the country, state unemployment offices have been overwhelmed by the growing volume of new claims.
Mike Stabrawa, 53, filed for unemployment for the first time in his life when the paper plant he worked at for 35 years permanently shut down in December.
"Everything was working smoothly until about three weeks ago," Stabrawa said. "It's the first time I've been without a job in my entire life. So that's the biggest thing about it. I want to work. I want to be a working guy."
The beleaguered manufacturing industry lost nearly 150,000 jobs last month. But the pain is limited to one sector. Unemployment is rising among all kinds of workers, including college graduates, who are usually spared.
"I have to say I think on every front this is the worst recession I have ever seen," said Trudy Steinfeld, executive director of the New York University Career Placement Center.
Steinfeld says that she has seen fewer recruiters, and employers have made fewer offers than in years past to graduating students.
The government says that more than 11 million Americans are now unemployed. And another 8 million are under-employed, working part-time because they cannot find full-time work. The pain is extraordinarily widespread.
"Many Americans are both anxious and uncertain of what the future will hold," President-elect Barack Obama said during a speech on the economy Wednesday.
And many investors on Wall Street look toward Obama to see how exactly his proposed stimulus plan "will save or create at least 3 million jobs over the next few years," as he says.
How he will do that is not yet clear. Obama said he plans to invest in energy, education, health care and new infrastructure.
"We will put Americans to work in new jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced -- jobs building solar panels and wind turbines; constructing fuel-efficient cars and buildings and developing the new energy technologies that will lead to even more jobs, more savings and a cleaner, safer planet in the bargain," Obama said Wednesday.