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Business Group Sees Worsening US Employment Picture

A leading U.S. business research organization says all signs point to a worsening employment outlook in the United States during the coming year. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from Washington.

U.S. unemployment continues to rise, hitting 6.1 percent last month, up from 5.7 percent in July. The Labor Department reports that more than 600,000 Americans have lost their jobs so far this year.

Yet the economy continues to expand, albeit at a modest pace, and fewer economists today are predicting a full-blown recession than was the case just a few months ago.

According to The Conference Board, a business research group whose economic forecasts are closely followed, even if there is no recession America's employment picture will not improve soon. The Conference Board reports that all eight of its labor market indicators are falling.

Those indicators range from surveys of job-seekers, to unemployment benefits claims, to industrial and manufacturing statistics.

The Conference Board's chief economist, Gad Levanon:

"Our employment trend index, which usually leads [predicts] employment and unemployment in the U.S., is still going down pretty rapidly," said Gad Levanon. "And that suggests to us that in the next several quarters we will keep seeing employment numbers declining and the unemployment numbers going up."

Levanon says the most recent U.S. economic growth number shows an up-tick in gross domestic product, but he attributes the gain to a federal stimulus package consisting primarily of rebate checks to middle and lower-income taxpayers. He adds that those checks were issued months ago, and their effect will be temporary.

"In the second quarter, the strength of the GDP numbers overestimate the strength of the economy, and I think a lot of it was because of the rebate checks and the stimulus plan," he said. "And businesses know that the increase in consumption is not permanent. So, when they adjust their payroll, they think about what the overall strength of the economy will be after the stimulus is no longer impacting the economy."

Levanon says he does not know whether a recession looms for the United States, but says he is "quite certain" that America's labor market will continue to be weak.