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.
But, in the meantime, a growing number of Americans are collecting unemployment and desperately searching for new jobs, ones that pay close to what they used to make.
Beyond that, fear of layoffs is taking its own toll on the economy. Some workers who still draw a weekly paycheck are cutting back on their spending for fear of losing their job down their road. While they might be saving for that rainy day, their lack of spending is driving the country deeper into a recession and putting their own jobs in jeopardy.
The biggest layoff announcements of the past 12 months, provided to ABC News by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, crossed all sectors. While some of these have already been reflected in the government data, others will be phased in during the next few months.
The financial sector has been hit particularly hard in this recession as bad investments and risky loans have come a cropper. Banking giant Citigroup had more layoffs than any other company in 2008, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, first with a 9,000-job cut announced in April and then another 50,000 jobs eliminated right before Thanksgiving.
It would be an understatement to say that 2008 was a bad year for U.S. automakers who had to turn to the government to bail them out for the time being. First, record-high gas prices drove consumers away from large SUVs and trucks that had been the bread and butter of the automakers for years. Then, banks started to cut off credit to consumers, making car loans harder and harder to come by. As part of its efforts to try and remain profitable, GM in May announced the layoff of 19,000 hourly workers.
Retailers had a particularly hard Christmas as consumers cut back on their spending. But even before the holiday shopping spree, KB Toys, with 275 stores in malls and nearly another 200 temporary and outlet stores, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It was the second filing in four years for the company. As the toy store company goes out of business, 15,000 workers will lose their jobs.
Things weren't so great in the restaurant business this year, either. Americans struggling with rising mortgages and high gas prices cut back on the number of times they ate out. One of the casualties was Bennigan's, which, filed for bankruptcy in July, closing all the company-owned restaurants. About 9,300 people lost their jobs.
Even rocket scientists aren't immune from the bad economy. Faced with budget cutbacks, NASA announced in June that 7,000 employees at the space agency would lose their jobs.
High oil prices also took their toll on the airline industry. Airlines were forced to slash routes and ground older, gas-guzzling planes. With fewer flights, they needed fewer employees. In July, American Airlines announced 7,000 layoffs.
This was not the year to be in the upscale coffee market. Starbucks, facing competition from lower-cost companies, such as Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald's, announced in July it was closing 600 under-performing, company-owned stores and cutting U.S. expansion plans amid concerns about America's slowing economy. As part of those store closings, 12,000 jobs were lost.
Shock waves spread throughout the financial world when Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy Sept. 15, the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. British bank Barclays purchased Lehman's North American investment-banking and trading divisions, saving some jobs. But an estimated 16,000 people still lost their jobs in Lehman's collapse.
Alcoa, the largest U.S. aluminum producer, announced last week it will fire 13,500 employees in response to shrinking demand for aluminum. Basically, in this global recession, there is less need for aluminum as fewer people buy cars, appliances and other products that use the lightweight metal.
The largest bank failure of the year came when too many bad loans finally caught up with Washington Mutual, the nation's largest thrift. JP Morgan Chase purchased the bank for $1.9 billion. In December, JP Morgan announced the elimination of 9,200 jobs related to the WaMu acquisition. Another 9,160 jobs were cut in May by JP Morgan in connection to its acquisition of failed investment bank Bear Stearns.
In the past few years, consumers have flocked to electronics stores to buy new high-definition televisions, DVD players, digital cameras and all sorts of other electronics. Those purchases waned as the recession grew deeper, pushing struggling Circuit City over the edge. In November, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The move came a week after the retailer announced it was closing about 155 Circuit City stores. As part of the store closings, 7,305 jobs were cut.
Things aren't too good, either, for the country's largest telecommunications company, AT&T. If businesses are shutting their doors, they don't need phones. In December, AT&T said it was eliminating 12,000 jobs because of tough market conditions.
With less business out there, there are fewer packages being shipped. In May, DHL's German parent company announced plans to cut costs in its U.S. express delivery business by hiring UPS to handle North American air cargo transportation. The change meant 6,800 jobs would be cut.