Today, the Joint Economic Committee held a hearing on the newly released Bureau of Labor Statistics employment figures entitled, “The Employment Situation: February 2009.” Keith Hall, Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, testified on behalf of the Bureau.

In her opening remarks, committee Chairman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) emphasized the necessity of a “bold, common sense plan to turn this economy around.” She also emphasized that “[t]his recession is on a path to be the worst since the Great Depression. The job losses have been widespread throughout the economy as employers have cut jobs at an even faster pace over the last several months.” Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX), criticized the Obama Administration’s efforts by saying that the Administration has yet to come up with a good financial plan to revive the economy. Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) urged that a new willingness is required "to be honest about the true nature and extent of risk as well as a renewed commitment to this idea for the good of our national economy Government must require through strict regulatory measures response action.”

Commissioner Hall reported the following:

  • Since the recession began in December 2007 unemployment job losses have totaled 4.4 million;
  • February unemployment increased from 7.6% to 8.1% , the highest rate in 25 years;
  • Manufacturing employment declined by 168, 000 in February and 1.3 million since the start of the recession;
  • Construction employment fell by 104,000 in February and 904,000 since the recession;
  • Professional and business services employment dropped by 180,000 in February;
  • Healthcare employment continued to grow with an increase of 127,000;
  • Average hourly earnings for private-sector production and non-supervisory workers increased by 3 cents, or 0.2 percent;
  • From December 2007 to February 2009, the number of job losers has doubled to 7.7 million, and their share of total unemployment has risen from 50.0 to 62.3 percent; and
  • In February, 2.9 million persons had been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer, up from 1.3 million at the start of the recession.

In responding to Chairman Maloney’s question as to whether there was any good news coming from the report, Commissioner Hall stated that there were, very few bright spots, if any in this report. Labor market weakness is deep, broad and across all industries and all demographic groups.

Emphasizing the seriousness of employment loss, Commissioner Hall stated that the country has “only had maybe 10 months where we lost 500,000 jobs or more in the history of our series since 1940. This is four of the ten, all in a row.” He also indicated that the country has never before seen four consecutive months where approximately 600,000 people lose their jobs each month. While hesitant to make any predictions, Commissioner Hall did reveal that the report may show a slight acceleration in job loss compared to previous months.