Page last updated at 16:51 GMT, Friday, 6 February 2009

US unemployment rate reaches 7.6%

Jobseekers at a jobs fair in California
US unemployment is rising further

The US unemployment rate rose to 7.6% in January, up from 7.2% in December, according to official figures.

The rise puts the unemployment rate at the highest level since 1992.

According to the US Labor Department, the economy lost 598,000 non-farm jobs for the month, and it also revised upwards the job losses for December.

Commenting on the figures, President Obama said the "the situation could not be more serious" and added that "these numbers demand action".

He urged the Congress to pass his economic stimulus package without delay and "not to get bogged down in distraction and delay while millions of Americans are being put out of work".

Carmaking cutbacks

The monthly report on non-farm payrolls is seen as giving one of the best ideas of how the US economy is faring and comes amid growing fears that the global contraction will continue for some time.

mary hallam

If it wasn't for my parents I'd be on the streets with my two kids. It's rough at the moment

Mary Hallam

The Labor Department revised upwards its estimate of job losses for December to 577,000 from 524,000.

In total, the US economy has lost 3.7 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007, with nearly half of those jobs shed coming in the past three months.

During January manufacturing cut back 207,000 jobs, making it the largest one-month fall since October 1982. The cutback in the auto sector was largely responsible for the reduction in factory jobs.

Construction firms cut 111,000 jobs, professional and business services got rid of 121,000 posts, retailers axed 45,000 jobs, and 28,000 posts went in the leisure and hospitality sector.

The latest figures were significantly worse than economists had expected.

'Awful report'

"The report is awful. It's even worse than it looks because retailers did not hire workers prior to Christmas, but they still did enormous layoffs after Christmas," said Cary Leahey, an economist at Decision Economics in New York.

"Firms are now suffering under the burden of excess inventories and everywhere you look in the report you see declines in almost every industry."

Meanwhile, in Canada, unemployment reached 7.2%, after a worse-than-expected 129,000 jobs were shed in January.

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