U.S. Unemployment Jumps to 10.2%

U.S. unemployment leaped to 10.2% in October, from 9.8% in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The U.S. economy lost 190,000 more jobs during the month, putting the number of unemployed Americans at 15.7 million. The 0.4% surge is highest the since May. Wall Street won't be happy either: it predicted the rate to increase modestly to 9.9%. October's losses push the unemployment rate into double digits for the first time since 1983, as it edges closer to the post-Great Depression high of 10.8% hit in 1982. I went through the report, looking for some glimmer of hope, but came up empty.

Before any analysis of what these numbers mean, here are a few charts that show the misery, from BLS:

oct 2009 unemp cht1.PNGoct 2009 unemp cht2.PNG

If you're looking for some kind of good news, the closest you'll probably find is that the economy lost fewer jobs in October than in September. But the losses were still more than in August.

Also worrying is the discouraged workers picture. For the past few months I've been commenting on the positive trend of fewer discouraged workers. That would imply that Americans are feeling more confident about the labor market and also indicate that their entering the workforce might be part of what's driving up unemployment. This month, however, that trend ends:

oct 2009 unemp discouraged.PNG

Really ugly. That's the highest number of discouraged workers we've seen since the start of the recession. If you include discouraged workers, the national rate is 10.7%, seasonally adjusted.

More Americans are also unemployed for longer than they were a year ago:

oct 2009 unemp duration.PNG

New legislation progressed this week that would help Americans who have been unemployed for an extended period by providing jobless benefits for longer. This picture shows why that's needed. A bill like this had been talked about for months, so it's suspicious interesting to note that Congress coincidentally finally moved on it the week when the rate would jump into double digits. Could they have had prior knowledge?

Still perplexing is the increasing variance between seasonally adjusted and non-seasonally adjusted unemployment:

oct 2009 unemp seasonality.PNG

These curves continue to move apart. This month, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased by 0.4% to 10.2%, while the non-seasonally adjusted rate was unchanged at 9.5%.

Lastly, Atlantic readers didn't do as well this month with the poll. Only 9% chose the option "10.1% or higher." Everyone else was more optimistic. But those who got it wrong shouldn't beat themselves up: I think few saw this jump coming. And for those who did -- was it just a good guess or do you know something that no one else does? Here are those results:

Presented by

Daniel Indiviglio was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 through 2011. He is now the Washington, D.C.-based columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He is also a 2011 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow through the Phillips Foundation. More

Indiviglio has also written for Forbes. Prior to becoming a journalist, he spent several years working as an investment banker and a consultant.

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