Unemployment hits 9.7 percent

After a slight drop last month, unemployment rose to 9.7 percent in August, the highest since June 1983. Employers eliminated a net total of 216,000 jobs last month, bringing the total loss since December 2007 to 6.9 million.

Private economists and the Federal Reserve predict the unemployment rate will top 10 percent by the end of the year. Most financial analysts say businesses will not start hiring again until they believe the economy is on a firm path to recovery.

The jobless rate rose more than expected but the number of job cuts is less than July’s upwardly-revised total of 276,000 and the lowest in a year, the Labor Department said Friday. But economists expected the unemployment rate to rise to 9.5 percent from July’s 9.4 percent and job reductions to total 225,000.

If laid-off workers who have settled for part-time work or have given up looking for new jobs are included, the underemployment rate reached 16.8 percent, the highest on records dating from 1994.

Yet earnings rose and the number of hours worked stayed above a recent record-low. Average hourly wages increased to $18.65 from $18.59, the department reported. Average weekly earnings increased to $617.32.

The number of weekly hours worked remained at 33.1, above the low of 33 reached in June. That figure is important because economists expect companies will add more hours for current workers before they hire new ones.

Some 14.9 million Americans are now unemployed.