Meltdown Watch

| Mon Oct. 27, 2008 1:48 AM EDT

MELTDOWN WATCH....The latest beacon of sunshine from the Wall Street Journal:

A rash of new job data show the labor market is now the worst it's been since the two prior recessions in 2001 and the early 1990s. One of the starkest indicators is that the number of people who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more reached two million in September. That's 21% of the total unemployed, and approaching the prior peaks of about 23% in 2003 and 1992. The prospects of these job seekers grow dimmer as layoffs spread beyond the financial, home-building and auto industries.

....What worries many economists is that labor markets usually reach their weakest point after a recession has ended. During the so-called "jobless recovery" following the 2001 recession, jobs continued to be shed after it was officially declared over. But the current weakness comes as the country heads into a recession that is now forecast to be deeper and longer than previously thought.

"No one thinks we are anywhere near the bottom of this, and we're already rivaling these other recessions," says Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank in Washington.

Elsewhere, we learn that U.S. retailers expect a lousy Christmas; the global slowdown has hit Poland hard; the IMF has just unveiled a rescue package for Ukraine; Asian economies are slowing sharply; and even oil-rich Middle Eastern countries are barely staving off bank failures. Meanwhile, Krugman's latest column ends on this cheery note: "Whatever the reasons for the continuing weakness of policy, the situation is manifestly not coming under control. Things continue to fall apart." Wonderful.

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