WASHINGTON (CN) — The Joint Economic Committee heard Friday that the unemployment situation is not getting better any time soon. Asked if there were any bright spots anywhere in the March job report, Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner Keith Hall replied, "No. There is no sign of the decline slowing down."
The committee's focus was the loss of 663,000 jobs in March, as reported by the Bureau of Labor. Unemployment rose by a further 0.4 percent, bringing overall unemployment to 8.5 percent.
"For the first time in at least 30 years, every state in the nation is in recession," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who chairs the Joint Economic Committee.
The monthly report, released Friday morning, shows the current recession now includes five of the 10 worst months on record for job loss. The United States has now suffered five straight months with losses of 600,000 jobs or more.
When asked by Republican Sen. Sam Brownback whether the bureau was looking for any trip wires that could signal an acceleration in job loss, Hall said, "There are not too many trip wires that haven't already been tripped. I'm not sure the labor market could fall any quicker right now."
Hall underscored the idea that the current recession is unique, explaining that employment initially suffered a mild downturn that only became severe after the credit market locked up five months ago. Of the 5.1 million jobs lost since the beginning of the recession, 3.3 million were lost after the credit freeze.
This recession is also unique in the high number of long-term unemployed. A quarter of those unemployed have been without a job for six months or more, the highest proportion since 1983, Hall testified. "We began this recession with an already high level of unemployment, and it has grown from there," he said.
The bleak situation led to some finger pointing. Rep. Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, used the gloomy labor statistics to criticize the Obama administration's prediction that this year would see an unemployment rate of 8.1 percent, calling it rosy since we are now at 8.5 percent unemployment. He predicted a $2 trillion deficit for 2009 and said this contributed to a lack of confidence in the government, adding that stagflation resulted the last time the Democrats controlled both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Maloney, a New York Democrat, responded, "If you're going to attack the Democrats, I'm going to attack the Republicans back." True to her word, Maloney argued that George W. Bush inherited a $5.6 trillion surplus, but left the country with a dire economic downturn, the largest budget deficit in history, and a record trade deficit.
Before reminding the committee that the hearing was not to discuss politics, but to understand the economy, she added that the Obama administration was doing its best to handle the problem.
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