Unemployment lines, painfully long this July Fourth, are only going to get longer. The nation lost jobs for a sixth month in a row last...

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WASHINGTON — Unemployment lines, painfully long this July Fourth, are only going to get longer.

The nation lost jobs for a sixth month in a row last month, a storm of pink slips drenching this year’s holiday for more than 60,000 Americans and leaving thousands more worried about the future.

Weighed down by energy prices and the housing crisis, employers laid off workers in stores, factories and forsaken building sites.

With more job cuts expected in coming months, there’s growing concern that many people will pull back on their spending later this year when the bracing effect of the tax rebates fades, dealing a dangerous setback to the shaky economy. These worries are rekindling recession fears.

“The deteriorating jobs climate will dampen many a barbecue this weekend. It’s hard to celebrate when you are out of a job,” said Richard Yamarone, economist at Argus Research.

Last month alone, employers got rid of 62,000 jobs, bringing total losses so far this year close to a staggering half-million — 438,000, according to the Labor Department’s report released Thursday. The economy needs to generate more than 100,000 new jobs a month for employment to remain stable.

The jobless rate held steady at 5.5 percent after jumping in May by the most in two decades. Still, June’s jobless rate was considerably higher than the 4.6 percent of a year ago. And it is expected to climb through the rest of this year and top 6 percent early next year.

“The economy will get worse before it gets better,” said Sung Won Sohn, an economics professor at California State University.

Just in the past few days, Chrysler said it would close a plant and Starbucks said it would shut some 600 stores in the next year, meaning more lost jobs ahead. American Airlines recently said it may cut flight-attendant jobs.

When companies do have openings, job hunters are in for more competition.

“I get résumés upon résumés upon résumés when I put up job postings,” said Jeff Posner, president and owner of e-ventsreg.com, a small New Jersey firm that handles registration and check-ins for trade shows.

There were 8.5 million unemployed people as of June, up from 7 million a year earlier.

Heavy job losses were reported in construction, manufacturing and financial services — the worst casualties of the housing, credit and financial debacles. Cutbacks also came in retailing, temporary help, trucking, publishing and elsewhere. That more than swamped job gains in other places including health care, education, hotels, bars and restaurants and the government.

The economy is the top concern of voters and will figure prominently in their choices for president and other elected officials come November. The faltering labor market is a source of anxiety not only for those looking for work but also for those worried about keeping their jobs during uncertain times.

When it comes to handling the economy, 32 percent prefer Democratic contender Barack Obama, while 28 percent want GOP rival John McCain, according to a recent AP-Yahoo News poll.

“Far too many Americans will spend this holiday out of work and struggling to provide for their families because of the failed policies of the last eight years,” Obama said Thursday.

“Americans across this country are hurting, and today’s jobs numbers are just the latest indication,” McCain said. “Washington can no longer abdicate its responsibility to act. Our focus must be clear: enact policies to create jobs today.”

Other economic news revealed more weak spots.

The number of newly laid off people signing up for unemployment insurance rose sharply last week. New applications jumped by 16,000 to 404,000, the highest level since late March.

The nation’s service sector — generally an engine for the economy — contracted last month. The Institute for Supply Management’s index of the service sector fell to 48.2 last month from 51.7 in May. A reading below 50 signals activity is shrinking, while a reading above that suggests activity is expanding.