Employment decline now worse than in 1981-82 recession

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I’ve updated my wildly popular chart of the decline in payroll employment with the nasty new numbers that the Bureau of Labor Statistics released this morning. TIME.com graphics czar Feilding Cage is out, so I made the chart myself, which explains why it’s uglier than usual:

febjoblossesreviseThe months listed on the right are when payroll employment peaked before the recession. And for some reason Excel refused to render the numbers along the y-axis as percentages (and I really don’t have time right now to go back and figure out how to fix it). So it’s not a decline in unemployment of just over 0.03%, it’s a decline of just over 3% (3.17%, to be precise).

What I get from the chart—apart from the realization that I have no future in graphic design—is that job losses from this recession are now worse than in 1981-1982, which is generally considered to have been the most severe economic downturn in the U.S. since the Great Depression. Barring a more or less unimaginable turnaround in the month or two, they will be much worse. Just look at how steep that brown line is!

The employment decline was even bigger (in percentage terms) in 1957-1958—and I hope William Polley will put a chart up later (update: he has, sort of) with all the postwar recessions so we can see. But that chart will be a lot harder to read, and I just don’t think the 1957-1958 downturn, a sharp but pretty brief recession caused by a Federal Reserve crackdown on inflation, is really relevant to our current situation. That was a bunch of auto and steelworkers getting laid off temporarily. This is something else entirely.

It’s probably still nowhere near as dramatic a chart as the monthly numbers from 1931 and 1932 would make. But the BLS wasn’t on the case back then.

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