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8 million

out of work in the US. That's about twice the population of S'pore

THE numbers are frightening. Yes, you might be tempted to say that the US is such a large country with a population of 280 million so please don't read too much into it.

But the reality is that, if there are so many people out there looking for jobs, there is something seriously wrong with the economy.

The US economy is the engine that drives growth in much of the world, especially Asia. And if that engine continues to sputter, we are in for trouble too. (See report, below.)

For a time, this year, the US looked like it was fighting its way out of recession. But now there is fear it is slipping.

That weak recovery this year produced not more than 150,000 new jobs - less than the average number created in one month during the 1990s economic expansion.

The Washington Times reported that while unskilled and less-educated workers often took the brunt of layoffs in past recessions, this time around, joblessness is disproportionately hitting workers with skills and education.

The lack of job openings have hit a wide spectrum of people - from recent college graduates and airline pilots to technology workers caught in the dotcom bust, as well as executives dismissed from disgraced and bankrupt corporations.

The unemployment rate has stayed at historically low levels, below 6 per cent despite the recession.

But labour analysts say that's partly because many workers have grown discouraged and dropped out.

The length of time it takes to find a new job is at its highest in eight years.

Mr Nariman Behravesh, chief economist with the forecasting group DRI-WEFA said businesses continue to trim workers and hold off hiring to cut costs and restore profits.

MORE THAN HALF OF US FIRMS CUT STAFF

A survey by Watson Wyatt Worldwide found that more than half of US corporations cut staff in the last year even as the economy was recovering and that nearly half imposed hiring freezes and kept a lid on pay hikes.

Mr Behravesh said the good news is that cost-cutting by businesses has produced strong productivity gains that enable the 131 million workers who still hold jobs to enjoy solid income growth.

That, in turn, fuels steady growth in consumer spending and supports growth in the overall economy, he said.

But for now, the lack of job opportunities is creating a growing angst not only among the unemployed, but among people who have jobs and feel stuck in place with little opportunity for advancement.

During the recent recession, more than 2 million jobs were lost.


S'PORE JOBS ALSO AT RISK

SINGAPORE'S economy is heavily tied to the fortunes of the US. This is so because the US is the biggest market for Singapore's exports.

And with the US market being caught in stormy weather, it looks like we have some more rough sailing to do.

In fact, Trade and Industry Minister George Yeo said yesterday that he did not rule out the possibility of Singapore slipping into recession again.

Speaking to the American Chamber of Commerce BG (NS) Yeo said: 'What happens in Singapore will depend a lot on what happens outside Singapore, particularly the US economy, which does not look very good right now... If (there's) a double dip, then we've got to do some necessary things.'

His comments come close on the heels of warnings by other leaders.

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Tharman Shanmugaratnam said two weeks ago that this year's economic growth is likely to fall below the Government's current 3 to 4 per cent forecast.

All this spells gloom on the job front.

Recently, Manpower Minister Lee Boon Yang said that the unemployment rate was likely to climb to 5 per cent or even 5.5 per cent by the end of the year.

On Oct 31, the Government announced that the unemployment rate had hit a 15-year high of 4.8 per cent in September.

Some 31,300 people, or a third of job seekers, had been out of work for at least six months as of June, according to the labour market survey by the Ministry of Manpower released in September.