WASHINGTON — The unemployment rate has hit double digits for the first time since 1983 — and is likely to go higher.
The 10.2 percent jobless rate for October shows how weak the economy remains, even though it is growing. The rising jobless rate could threaten the recovery if it saps consumers' confidence and makes them more cautious about spending as the holiday season approaches.
The October unemployment rate — reflecting nearly 16 million jobless people — jumped from 9.8 percent in September, the Labor Department said Friday. Economists say the unemployment rate could surpass 10.5 percent next year because employers are reluctant to hire.
President Barack Obama called the new jobs report another illustration of why much more work is needed to spur business creation and consumer spending. Noting legislation he's signing to provide additional unemployment benefits for laid-off workers, Obama said, "I will not rest until all Americans who want work can find work."
Troubles for small businesses could have a disproportionate effect on the economy, because they account for about 60 percent of the nation's jobs. They tend to rely on credit cards and home equity lines to maintain their cash flow. Banks have tightened credit in many of these areas.
The 10.2 percent unemployment rate does not include people without jobs who have stopped looking for work or those who have settled for part-time jobs. If you counted those people, the unemployment rate would be 17.5 percent, the highest on records dating from 1994.
"It's not a good report," said Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist for New York investment firm Miller Tabak & Co. "What we're seeing is a validation of the idea that a jobless recovery is perfectly on track."
Last week, the government said the economy grew at a 3.5 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter, the strongest signal yet that the worst recession since the Great Depression is over. But that growth isn't fast enough to turn the job market around.
"You need explosive growth to take the unemployment rate down," Greenhaus said Thursday.
The economy soared by nearly 8 percent in 1983 after a steep recession, lowering the jobless rate by 2.5 percentage points that year. But the economy is unlikely to improve that fast this time, as consumers remain cautious and tight credit hinders businesses. In fact, many analysts expect economic growth to moderate early next year, as the impact of government stimulus programs to boost home and car buying fades.