Just the facts: The US economy lost 345,000 jobs in May. That's bad. But economists thought we'd lose almost 200,000 more. That's good. At 9.5%, unemployment is higher than its been in a quarter century. That's bad. But we're losing jobs slower than any time since September. That's good. Economists predict we could hit double digit unemployment later this year. Bad. "Before the end of the year and maybe even by late summer we could be at flat employment," says economist Alan D. Levenson. Good.

Got it? Maybe this would be easier with pictures:

From the New York Times, this gives you a sense of optimism, as you see job losses have clearly stopped accelerating. If that blue pit of job losses continues to dig itself back to flat employment at this pace, we could see unemployment leveling out in about four months.


Of course, that means unemployment is only going to get worse for at least four months. And, as the 1982 and 1991 recessions demonstrate, it's difficult to know whether the other side of the unemployment mountain is a mercifully steep cliff or a slow-rolling hill. In the graph below, which compares unemployment in the early 80s, early 90s and the current crisis (we're red), the vertical axis is unemployment rate. The numbers along the horizontal axis are the number of months since the recession started.
It's looking increasingly likely that we'll break the double-digit barrier and rival the 1982 unemployment mark of 10.8%. This is especially remarkable, since as the graph shows, we started the recession about two percentage points behind the 1980s in the jobless sweepstakes.

Update: Saving the worst for last: Another way to demonstrate the current recession's overall job loss is with this graph, via Economix and the BLS. The Y-axis gives you a sense of job losses as a share of employment.


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