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Lost jobs a cost of economic pay-back

Omega Mckenzie stands outside an employment office in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

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TESS VIGELAND: We're probably not going to get an official declaration of recession until it's over. But that doesn't mean it isn't going to feel like one. And the employment figures released today only added to that feeling. The economy shed 63,000 jobs last month. That's the biggest drop in five years. And there are signs that a whole lot of people without jobs may have simply given up and stopped looking for one.

Marketplace's Alisa Roth reports.


ALISA ROTH: February was the second month in a row the economy lost jobs. And job losses in January were worse than the government initially reported. Lindsey Piegza is an analyst at FTN Financial. She says we'd better get used to it.

LINDSEY PIEGZA: Overall, there really is no sign of strength in any sector in the economy so you can expect to see negative monthly reports for a good I would say a good two quarters. We're expecting to see negative growth for the next four to six quarters. So putting those together, we have a very grim picture for the economy.

Yesterday, the government released weekly figures for jobless claims. They were down. Which means fewer people applied for unemployment. That's not necessarily a good sign, though, because it can indicate that people have given up on finding a job. That is, that they've simply dropped out of the work force.

Christian Weller is a senior economist at the Center for American Progress. He says there's another, equally ominous, reason.

CHRISTIAN WELLER: People know that they're losing their job and it will take some time before they can get a job back, they will delay asking for unemployment benefits until the last minute because they don't know how long they're going to be unemployed.

The weekly job-claims numbers can fluctuate. But the four-week average also fell.

Weller says this downturn was bound to come as the economy enters what he calls a repayment phase. For years, it was cheap and easy to borrow money, which helped the economy grow. But now it's time, quite literally, to pay back those debts.

In New York, I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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