BUSINESS

US Recession May Be Worst Since World War II

Bloomberg News reports that the massive job losses in the U.S. last month signal the nation may be headed towards its worst recession since World War II:

The U.S. economy may be headed for its deepest and longest recession since World War II as mounting job losses take their toll on consumer confidence and spending.

Employers cut payrolls last month at the fastest pace in 34 years as the unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent, the highest level since 1993. The 533,000 drop brought cumulative job losses this year to 1.91 million, the Labor Department said yesterday in Washington...

...At 12 months, the recession is already the longest since the 16-month slump that ended in November 1982. The recession is the 11th since a downturn that occurred in 1945, the year that World War II ended.

To fight the downturn, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke this week outlined unorthodox policy action that officials can take beyond lowering interest rates. One option would be to purchase longer-term Treasuries on the open market to inject more cash into the financial system.

The central bank may also cut its benchmark rate from 1 percent at its meeting Dec. 15-16 in Washington. HSBC Holdings Inc. economists yesterday forecast the Fed will reduce it to zero, emulating the Bank of Japan's efforts to defeat deflation earlier this decade.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich is even more pessimistic. Mr. Reich asks if we should simply call our current situation a Depression:

Today's employment report, showing that employers cut 533,000 jobs in November, 320,000 in October, and 403,000 in September -- for a total of over 1.2 million over the last three months -- begs the question of whether the meltdown we're experiencing should be called a Depression.

We are falling off a cliff. To put these numbers into some perspective, the November losses alone are the worst in 34 years. A significant percentage of Americans are now jobless or underemployed -- far higher than the official rate of 6.7 percent. Simply in order to keep up with population growth, employment needs to increase by 125,000 jobs per month...

...When FDR took office in 1933, one out of four American workers was jobless. We're not there yet, but we're trending in that direction.