Worst Ever

I note stories this morning calling the state’s 11.5 unemployment rate for May 2009 “a record.” It’s not really true. It can be said for sure it *is* the highest since 1976, when the state’s current record-keeping system began. But the rate was higher–much higher–during the Great Depression right up to the eve of World War II

Only guesses are available for the worst years of the Depression, in the early and mid-1930s, when 25 percent or more of the labor force is believed to have been jobless. That situation improved but only slowly during the late ’30s. State records cited in an April story from the Chronicle’s Tom Abate showed a 14.7 unemployment rate in October 1940. With the nation gearing up for war, the rate fell quickly thereafter. Last month’s figure of 11.5 percent appears to be the highest since January 1941, when the rate stood at 11.7 percent.

None of this is to minimize the enormity of the statistics reported today. The rate now is at the highest point in nearly 70 years and is a sign of an epochal economic failure.

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