Workers collecting jobless benefits are most since 1983

WASHINGTON -- Americans losing their jobs are having a tough time finding work and are collecting unemployment benefits at numbers not seen in a quarter-century.

Nearly 3.9 million people were collecting jobless benefits the week ended Nov. 1, the most recent data available. That was up 65,000 from the prior week and the highest since January 1983, when the USA was recovering from one of the deepest recessions in the post-war period, the Labor Department said Thursday.

A year ago, 2.6 million people were collecting unemployment benefits.

"Hiring has slowed to a crawl, keeping unemployed workers on benefit rolls for long periods," Moody's economist Andrew Gledhill said in a note to clients. "Businesses are pessimistic about the economic outlook. Until confidence firms, hiring will remain tepid."

And people appear to be losing jobs at an increasingly rapid pace. The number of workers applying for benefits for the first time hit a seasonally adjusted 516,000 last week, highest that figure has been since just after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Calling the latest numbers on weekly jobless benefits filings "pretty ugly," economic consulting firm Action Economics predicted 300,000 people will be laid off this month. That will lift the unemployment rate to 6.7% in November from 6.5% in October, which was the highest in more than 14 years.

Employers shed 240,000 jobs in October after cutting 284,000 in September.

Many economists say it will continue to get worse.

"We haven't begun to see the bottom in the labor markets," Chamber of Commerce chief economist Martin Regalia says.

Congress next week may take up legislation to extend unemployment benefits. That could be part of a larger stimulus bill that may include funds for infrastructure improvements, such as spending on roads and bridges, in a bid to boost jobs.

Even for those who still have jobs, worries about job security are leading many to cut their spending. Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, fell in the July-September quarter at the fastest pace since 1980.

Data on the economy is becoming increasingly bleak, not just in the USA, but around the world. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Thursday that economies in developed countries are facing a "protracted slowdown" that will lead to further contraction in 2009.

"The economy still faces significant financial stress and the outlook remains highly uncertain," Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia President Charles Plosser said in a speech Wednesday.

Contributing: Richard Wolf