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Updated from 8:44 a.m. EDT

The U.S. economy lost 663,000 jobs in March, and the unemployment rate rose to 8.5%, essentially meeting the bleak estimates of Wall Street economists.

The Labor Department said Friday that the nation's jobless rate increased from 8.1% in February, while the number of nonfarm payroll jobs lost has now surpassed 5 million since the beginning of the recession in December 2007.

Roughly 3.3 million jobs have vanished in the last five months alone.

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According to a

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survey, analysts were predicting that 660,000 workers lost their positions last month and that the unemployment rate climbed to 8.5%, a level not seen since 1983.

February's data weren't revised, meaning the government's initial count showing a decline of 651,000 jobs that month was unchanged. January, however, was restated lower to a loss of 741,000 workers from the 655,000 previously reported.

Last month manufacturing employment fell by 161,000, and the construction industry shed 126,000 workers. The number of employees in professional and business services dropped by 133,000, the government said, and the retail trade sector saw a decline of 48,000.

In the financial industry, 43,000 jobs were lost, and a similar number came out of leisure and hospitality.

Average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory workers rose 3 cents, or 0.2%. Ratings, recently cited for Best Stock Selection from October 2007 through February 2009 , is an independent research provider that combines fundamental and technical analysis to offer investors tremendous value in volatile times. To see how your portfolio can use this research, click here now!