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Jobless Rate Highest Since 1983

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Double digit unemployment has arrived. Unemployment has jumped above 10 percent for the first time since the early 1980s. Those government numbers were released today for the month of October. And they don't even count people so discouraged, they are no longer actively looking for work.

NPR's John Ydstie reports.

JOHN YDSTIE: Most analysts had expected that the recession would eventually drive the unemployment rate into double digits. It finally did. October's rate was 10.2 percent. And if you include discouraged workers, the number of unemployed now totals more than 18 million. Today at the White House, President Obama responded by signing a bill sent to him by Congress yesterday that extends unemployment benefits for as much as 20 more weeks.

BARACK OBAMA: The need for such a measure was made clear by the jobs report that we received this morning. Although we lost fewer jobs than we did last month, our unemployment rate climbed to over 10 percent, a sobering number that underscores the economic challenges that lie ahead.

YDSTIE: Today's unemployment report also showed overall U.S. businesses cut 190,000 jobs from their payrolls last month. While that's an improvement over September's job cuts, it still shows most employers are trimming jobs or still not yet hiring, despite evidence of growth in the economy.

DYKE MESSINGER: We are very much still hunkered down.

YDSTIE: That's Dyke Messinger, who runs a small manufacturing firm in North Carolina called Power Curbers. The company makes machines for paving and putting in curbs and gutters.

MESSINGER: The U.S. business, which is dependent on housing and commercial construction, is just playing awful.

YDSTIE: Exports to the Middle East, South America and Asia have kept his company going, says Messinger, but he's reduced his workforce by 40 percent and those who are left are only working about half time. Messinger believes he won't hire another permanent worker for at least two years.

MESSINGER: I am concerned that the real recovery, and let's say the real recovery is based upon a turnaround in the jobs numbers, is not going to come now until the end of 2011.

YDSTIE: Mark Zandi of Moody's Economy.com agrees this situation is discouraging. And, he says, even though it may appear the recession is over, because output is growing again, the coast isn't clear yet.

MARK ZANDI: As long as we're losing jobs, as long as businesses aren't hiring, it's very, very possible that, you know, consumers just stop spending and the economy slips back into the morass.

YDSTIE: Zandi says that to keep that from happening, government policymakers need to be aggressive and extend more elements of the stimulus package. The bill President Obama signed today, in addition to extending unemployment benefits, also continues and expands the home buyers' tax credit through next April and cuts some taxes for small businesses. But Zandi argues that because the private sector has not yet taken the baton from the government, even more needs to be done, including more help for state governments, he says.

ZANDI: If they don't get more help, there will be significant cuts in their employment by this time next year, program cuts and tax increases.

YDSTIE: Zandi says the measures he's recommending would probably cost the government another $100 billion. Today, President Obama said his advisers were considering a number of additional measures to provide stimulus to the economy. Republicans take a different view, commenting on the employment report today, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said that more debt and more spending clearly has not worked.

John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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John Ydstie has covered the economy, Wall Street, and the Federal Reserve at NPR for nearly three decades. Over the years, NPR has also employed Ydstie's reporting skills to cover major stories like the aftermath of Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He was a lead reporter in NPR's coverage of the global financial crisis and the Great Recession, as well as the network's coverage of President Trump's economic policies. Ydstie has also been a guest host on the NPR news programs Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Ydstie stepped back from full-time reporting in late 2018, but plans to continue to contribute to NPR through part-time assignments and work on special projects.