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More jobs lost. When will this end?

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KAI RYSSDAL: I don’t know if any economists would actually admit this if you asked them, but they do a certain element of winging it when they’re trying to figure out what’s going on. Take today’s March unemployment figures. Objectively, 80,000 jobs lost isn’t a huge number. But when it’s the biggest monthly drop in five years, as it was, and it’s the third consecutive month of declines, as it was, then it’s not so good. For those who’ve been debating whether we’re in a recession, it might be time to move on to another question. How bad’s it gonna be? Marketplace’s Alisa Roth went looking for answers.

ALISA ROTH: There’s no question these are some big numbers. And not suprisingly, some sectors were hit worse than others: construction and financial services to name two. But the numbers are bigger than economists were predicting, which always causes a little anxiety — especially on Wall Street. But as one economist said to me today, 95-percent of the workforce in the U.S. is still on the job.

The real question, says economist Hugh Johnson, is how long and how deep this slowdown, whatever you want to call it, is going to last. And, he believes …

HUGH JOHNSON: There’s a reasonable case that could be made that this is not going to be long and it’s not going to be severe.

Expect another quarter of lousy jobs numbers and other data. But after that, he says, things should start looking up.

JOHNSON: We’ve gotten some messages from the financial markets recently that give us the reason to believe that conclusion, so I don’t think all is lost.

Johnson is convinced the Fed’s efforts to unclog the credit markets will work. And that pretty soon we’ll all be back to business as usual.

Ken Goldstein is an economist at the Conference Board. He says consumers are too worried to go back to business as usual. And it’s not losing their jobs they’re afraid of.

Ken Goldstein: Consumers are looking at what’s coming in and nervous a little bit about that, looking about what we have to pay, and nervous about how much more there’s going to be. So that household budgets are being squeezed as we speak.

And that, he says, would be true even if the economy had gained 80,000 jobs last month instead of losing them.

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

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