Some 7.1 percent of Americans are out of work. That's bad, but it's well below the jobless rate in the 1980-81 recession, which went over 10 percent. But 7.1 percent doesn't count the discouraged, who have given up looking for work, or part-timers or "temps" who would like to work longer hours. Factoring in these two groups would correct the unemployment rate to about 10.2 percent. The same corrections could have been made to the 1981 jobless rate, pushing it over 12 percent.
Still, this recession feels worse than the last one. Some have called it a white-collar recession, because it hits service industries especially hard. Previous recessions affected mostly manufacturing businesses, and mostly the blue-collar workers in those businesses. When an assembly line shuts down during a recession, there is usually the expectation that it will start up again when times get better; with unemployment insurance and union contracts guaranteeing re-employment, laid-off families can get through recessions.
But the 70,000 jobs cut by General Motors and the 20,000 by IBM were planned as permanent reductions. Those employees, many of them in clerical and middle management positions, will get no callbacks when the cycle turns up.