US unemployment jumps to 7.6%

Unemployment in the US spiked to 7.6 per cent in January with nearly 600,000 people losing their jobs in the month, figures showed today.

As President Barack Obama continued to struggle to get a massive stimulus plan passed through Congress, official data provided a stark reminder of the need for urgent action.

Since the start of the US recession in December 2007 some 3.6 million Americans have lost their jobs.

The Labour Department said 598,000 people were made redundant in January alone - the highest monthly total since 1974.

The headline rate of unemployment is now at its highest since September 1992. The jump from 7.2 per cent in December to 7.6 per cent is worse than economists had predicted.

Commenting on the figures Heidi Shierholz, economist at the Economic Policy Institute, said: "Since the start of the recession, the US economy has shed more jobs than the total population of Chicago.

"This morning's jobs report is yet one more demonstration of the fact that the rug has been pulled out from under working families in this country and it underscores the urgency of passing an effective stimulus package that matches the scope of the problem."

The White House likewise seized on the figures to reiterate the need for bold action.

Christina Romer, chairwoman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, said: "These numbers and the very real suffering of American workers they represent, reinforce the need for bold fiscal action.

"If we fail to act, we are likely to lose millions more jobs and the unemployment rate could reach double digits.

"Prompt, well-designed fiscal policy is necessary to stop the decline and heal the economy. The American people are counting on leadership from Washington to help the economy recover and lay the long-term foundation for long-term economic growth."

Despite their warnings, Senators appeared to be deadlocked this morning over the President's near 900 billion US dollar (£683 billion) recovery package.

Republicans claimed it is too reliant on public spending and are calling for more tax breaks in the plan.

Last night President Obama said "the time for talk was over" as he continued to push Capitol Hill to accept the proposal.

In a sign he is getting increasingly frustrated with the slow progress of the Bill, Mr Obama warned of politicians "bickering" at a time when Americans were demanding action.

He also hit out at Republicans trying to block the package in favour of tax relief, saying policies of the past "have failed".

The president added: "The time for talk is over. The time for action is now, because we know that if we do not act, a bad situation will become dramatically worse. Crisis could turn into catastrophe for families and businesses across the country.

"I refuse to let that happen."

Following the release of today's joblessness figures, Mr Obama said it was "inexcusable and irresponsible" to delay the stimulus plan.

In his harshest words yet directed at those opposing the package, the president said he was sure members of the Senate had seen the figures.

"I hope they share my sense of urgency and draw the same, unmistakable conclusion - the situation could not be more serious."

He added: "These numbers demand action. It is inexcusable and irresponsible to get bogged down in distraction and delay while millions of Americans are being put out of work.

"It is time for Congress to act. It is time to pass an Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Plan to get our economy moving again."

Inaction, Mr Obama said, was "completely unacceptable to the American people".

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