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US Unemployment Rate Edges Higher

US Unemployment Rate Edges Higher

US Unemployment Rate Edges Higher

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Companies in the United States are shedding more jobs, pushing the country's unemployment rate to a 26-year high of 9.8 percent.

The U.S. Labor Department said Friday that employers cut 263,000 jobs in September, with companies in the service industries, including banks, restaurants and retailers, hit especially hard.

The United States has now lost 7.2 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007. The new data is sparking fears that unemployment could threaten an economic recovery.

Top U.S. officials have warned that any economic recovery would be slow and uneven, and some have predicted the U.S. unemployment rate will top 10 percent before the situation improves.

Also Thursday, the U.S. Commerce Department said factory orders fell for the first time in five months, dropping eight-tenths of a percent in August.

Orders for durable goods - items intended to last several years, including everything from appliances to airliners - fell 2.6 percent, the steepest drop since January.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Friday the latest jobs data was tough news but promised "we are going to recover."

He also noted that the pace of jobs losses, while bad, is better than it was when President Barack Obama first took office. However, he added "less bad is not our measure of success."

The U.S. government has been spending billions of dollars - part of a massive $787 billion stimulus package - to help spark economic growth. There have been some signs the economy is improving.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that spending on home construction jumped in August for its biggest increase in 16 years. The National Association of Realtors said pending sales of previously owned homes rose more than 12 percent in August, compared to August of last year.

A separate Commerce Department report said consumer spending - which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity - rose at its fastest pace in nearly eight years, jumping 1.3 percent in August.

Still, during testimony before a U.S. Congressional Joint Economic Committee Friday, a top economic official warned about the problem of underemployment.

Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner Keith Hall said the number of Americans who have settled for part-time jobs, or who have given up looking for work has doubled since the recession began.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.