Page last updated at 13:14 GMT, Friday, 4 April 2008 14:14 UK

US jobless data worse than feared

US construction worker
The US jobs market is showing increasing signs of weakness

US employers shed 80,000 jobs in March, Labor Department figures have shown, in the latest sign that the US economy may be falling into recession.

The decline was the third monthly drop in succession, and worse than market expectations of a 60,000 reduction.

The jobless rate rose to 5.1% in March, the highest level since September 2005, and a rise from February's 4.8%.

Federal Reserve boss Ben Bernanke warned earlier this week that the US economy faced the risk of recession.

'Pretty bad'

While the Labor Department said March's job losses were spread across the economy, the biggest cuts came in the construction and manufacturing sectors.

Before, there was a debate about whether we were in recession but I think this settles it
Rudy Narvas, 4Cast.

Figures also showed that for the first quarter of 2008 as a whole, job losses averaged 77,000 a month.

This compares with average monthly job creation rates of 76,000 for the second half of last year.

"The numbers are pretty bad," said analyst Rudy Narvas of 4Cast.

"Before, there was a debate about whether we were in recession but I think this settles it.

"We've passed the tipping point."

'No silver lining'

Ben Bernanke warned on Wednesday that US gross domestic product (GDP) could contract in the first six months of 2008.

"It now appears likely that real GDP will not grow much, if at all, over the first half of 2008 and could even contract slightly," he told Congress.

The downturn in the US economy centres on the sharp slump in the housing market.

"There doesn't appear to be any silver lining," said Carl Lantz, an analyst at Credit Suisse.

"It shows that we're right in the middle of a recession that will probably take a while."

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