The nation's unemployment rate rose to 9.4 percent in May, the highest in more than 25 years. Yet, there is evidence that the recession is loosening its grip: Employers cut 345,000 jobs, the fewest since September, the Labor Department reported.

You can blame new college graduates such as Aneika Fermin, 22, for the rising unemployment rate.

Even though she will officially join the labor force after she graduates next week, she has been looking for a job for months.

"I put myself out there," said Fermin, a marketing major at Drexel University.

Fellow members of the Class of 2009, available for work after their graduations in May, already have swelled the labor force. And because many have not found work, they are now among 14.5 million unemployed Americans, up from 13.7 million in April.

The rise in the number of unemployed has outpaced the increase in the labor force, pushing the jobless rate to 9.4 percent.

It will be a tough road for Fermin and her fellow graduates. Unemployment among young workers age 20 to 24 was 15 percent in May; nearly 2.27 million of them couldn't find work. Among college graduates, unemployment has reached 4.8 percent; a year ago, it was 2.3 percent.

Experts say the economy must grow by 150,000 jobs a month to accommodate new job-seekers such as Fermin and her classmates.

As has been usual, job cuts have spread across the spectrum, with only education, health services, and leisure and hospitality reporting modest gains. Even so, layoffs began last week at Northeastern Hospital in Philadelphia's Port Richmond neighborhood.

There's no sign, so far, that the federal economic-stimulus program has made a dent in construction hiring.

Heavy construction - work involving bridges, roads, and other infrastructure - continued to lose jobs, down 8,700. Even as construction should be picking up in the spring, construction payrolls declined by 12,700 jobs. Architecture and engineering also shed a combined 14,400 jobs.

Manufacturing continued its way downward, losing 156,000 jobs. Included were 29,800 jobs lost as the automotive industry declined.

On the service side, the steepest losses, 51,000 jobs, came from business, legal, and professional services - one sector that might employ someone such as Fermin. Even so, accounting firms such as Ernst & Young in Philadelphia added jobs, as did waste-management companies, proving that nothing, including a recession, can stop trash or taxes.

Maybe Fermin could have gotten a job with Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Although the Philadelphia office laid off 25 people in the fall, it hired 103 college graduates as management trainees this spring, down from 168 in 2008. "We promote from within, so we need to keep the pipelines open," said local recruiting manager Stacy McClelland.

However, many companies have cut jobs, hours, and pay. The average workweek in May fell to 33.1 hours, the lowest on records dating to 1964.

The State of New Jersey announced earlier this week that it would delay raises and impose 10 days of unpaid leave. Nationwide, hiring by state governments has been flat.

Since the recession - the longest since World War II - began in late 2007, the economy has lost six million jobs.

Including laid-off workers who have given up looking for new jobs or have settled for part-time work, the unemployment rate would have been 16.4 percent in May.

The average length of unemployment rose to 22.5 weeks from 21.4 weeks in April and 16.8 weeks a year ago.

Still, job losses in March and April were less than previously thought. Employers cut 652,000 positions in March, compared with 699,000 previously reported. They eliminated 504,000 jobs in April, fewer than the originally reported 539,000.

"It's flattening out, but we're still having problems," said Rich Milgram, chief executive of Beyond.com in King of Prussia. Beyond.com operates 15,000 online job boards that provide listings based either on geography, such as PhillyJobs.com, or profession, such as MedGigs.net.

In Philadelphia, he said, job postings rose 10 percent in May, even as the number of resumes posted fell. "That tells me that people have jobs and are getting jobs," Milgram said.

The deepest employment cuts of the recession came in January, when 741,000 jobs disappeared, the most since 1949.

Many economists believe that the jobless rate will hit 10 percent by year-end.

More, including a jobbing blog and Inquirer series, at: http://go.philly.

com/jobbing.

Coming Monday in Business, a Q-and-A on how to keep your job.EndText

Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com.
This article contains information from the Associated Press.