Unemployment continued its long climb in July, and employers slashed jobs for the seventh-straight month, as the labor market continued...

Share story

Unemployment continued its long climb in July, and employers slashed jobs for the seventh-straight month, as the labor market continued a slow but steady deterioration that is walloping American workers.

The unemployment rate was 5.7 percent in July, the Labor Department said Friday, up from 5.5 percent in June and 4.7 percent a year earlier. Employers cut 51,000 positions from their payrolls, and the economy has now lost jobs every month in 2008, a total of 463,000 fewer positions now than in December.

“It’s a continuation of the trend we’ve been seeing, moderate job declines overall, and increases in total unemployment,” said Tig Gilliam, chief executive of Adecco North America, a giant staffing company.

The job losses are not as steep as declines suffered during the two most recent recessions, but are part of a steady and unrelenting decline in labor-market conditions that began at the end of last year.

The new data show how ordinary Americans are being squeezed from almost every direction. Food and fuel are more expensive, homes are less valuable, credit is harder to get, and it is increasingly difficult to get a job or a raise.

The rise in unemployment came about because more people entered the labor force but apparently couldn’t find jobs. The number of unemployed people rose by 285,000 last month. And while hourly wages were up slightly, Americans worked fewer hours, so the average weekly wage fell $6.18, or 1 percent, to $606.26.

The month’s job cuts create, in effect, a map of the distress affecting the economy. Construction employers cut another 22,000 jobs, reflecting the continued decline in the amount of homebuilding.

Manufacturers cut 35,000 more jobs, also continuing a long campaign of cuts, reflecting Americans’ unwillingness or inability to buy big-ticket items, such as automobiles and furniture.

Retailers cut 17,000 jobs. Some retailers, such as Linens ‘n Things, have filed for bankruptcy, and others are closing stores or reducing staffing.

Employment services, meanwhile, cut 34,200 positions. Frequently during downturns, companies slash temporary workers before laying off permanent employees.

The bright spots were perennial sources of job growth. The government added 25,000 jobs, and health-care employers generated 34,300 net new jobs.

A separate report said that the nation’s manufacturing is flat.

A survey by the Institute for Supply Management reported that activity at the nation’s factories was unchanged, with its index at 50; on the cusp between growth and contraction.

Weakness in demand by U.S. consumers was offset by strong growth in exports to other countries.