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The Labor Department's report today showed employers eliminated a net total of 663,000 jobs jumping the nation's unemployment rate to 8.5% in March — the highest since late 1983. Economist estimated job losses would jump to 654,000 so the report exceeded expectations but the rise in the unemployment rate matched expectations. The economy has now lost a net total of 5.1 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007, with almost two-thirds of the losses occurring in the last five months.

The number of unemployed people climbed to 13.2 million in March and the number of people who would like to work full time but whose hours were cut back or were unable to find full-time work rose by 423,000 to 9 million. If part-time and discouraged workers are factored in, the unemployment rate would be 15.6 % for March, the highest on records dating to 1994.

The deterioration in the jobs market comes despite a few hopeful signs recently that the recession — now the longest since World War II — could be easing.

The Labor Department has revised January's job loss to 741,000, the worst since 1949 and February's to 651,000. That is 3.7 million jobs gone in the last 6 months, 2.7% of the workforce, the second-largest percentage loss in 50 years.

Job losses were widespread across industries, with only health-care showing a small gain of 14,000.

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