Nonfarm payrolls in the US fell for the 12th straight month, as a whopping 524,000 jobs were lost in December. The job losses, the greatest in 24 years, signal an ongoing weakening labor market, as 2.6 million jobs were lost in all of 2008. That’s the most since 1945, when the US economy was demobilizing following the end of WWII. On top of being fierce, the decline in payrolls has also been lightning fast, as 1.9 million of those jobs were lost in the last four months.

The report is worse than anticipated, as economists were expecting 500,000 job losses for December. October and November job losses were revised much lower as well, by a total of 154,000 jobs. Payrolls have fallen by more than 500,000 in a month only five times in the last 58 years, with two of the times coming in consecutive months to end a dreadful 2008.

The unemployment rate surged in December, gaining 0.5 percentage points, to a 7.2% annual rate. That’s the highest level in 16 years. Its meteoric rise of 2.2% in the past six months accounts for most of the gain in the last year.

Job losses were deep and widespread across most industries, according to the survey of work sites. Only 25% of the 274 industries were hiring.

Via MarketWatch:

Goods-producing industries cut 251,000 jobs in December, including 149,000 in manufacturing. The factory workweek plunged below 40 hours to a record low 39.9 hours, and average overtime fell to just 3 hours. Of 84 manufacturing industries, just 11% were hiring.

Services-producing industries cut 273,000 jobs in December, including 67,000 in retail trade and 113,000 in business services. Temporary-help jobs fell by 81,000. Health-care industries added 32,000 workers.

Of those working, their hours have been cut to record levels:

Total hours worked in the economy fell 1.1%, with the average workweek falling to the shortest ever [33.3 hours].

As stated before, in the last year, US payroll employment has fallen by 2.6 million. Four months ago that number stood at 557,000.

And that number doesn’t include discouraged workers or workers forced to take part-time jobs, which was also widespread. Just to give you an idea:

The number of workers forced to work part-time rose by 715,000 to 8.04 million.

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