The headline number in the monthly jobs report from the U.S. Labor Department tells a grim tale - 63,000 jobs lost nationwide in a month, the most in five years.

But the situation is much worse than that.

The number of jobs shed by the private sector - the main driver of the economy - was 101,000, reflecting three straight months of losses in nongovernment jobs.

"That's how you know we're in a recession, for God's sake," said Eileen Appelbaum of Philadelphia, a labor economist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

"It's bad right now," said Joanna Miller, 26, of South Philadelphia, a security guard who has been out of work since December. "There's a lot of budget-cutting where people can't afford to pay their employees."

The stock market fell on yesterday's news, with the Dow Jones industrial average dropping 146 points and declining issues outnumbering advancers by about 5 to 3 on the New York Stock Exchange.

The numbers fell even after the Federal Reserve had said it would take steps to ease credit markets and President Bush had tried to calm an anxious public.

"Losing a job is painful, and I know Americans are concerned about our economy. So am I," Bush said during a hastily arranged White House appearance.

"I know this is a difficult time for our economy," he said. "But we recognized the problem early and we provided the economy with a booster shot."

Congress passed and Bush signed a stimulus package that will send tax rebates to many families and businesses.

Meanwhile, lots of workers are just giving up.

What seems like a weird juxtaposition - the loss of 63,000 jobs in February and the relative stability of the unemployment rate - can be explained by the shrinkage of the labor force.

Usually, the labor force grows as young people enter the ranks of the employed. But between January and February, 450,000 people left the labor force.

"Four hundred and fifty thousand workers have said there's nothing out there for me," Appelbaum said. "They say, 'I sent out my 80 resumes or I made my 27 phone calls and nobody wants me.' "

The unemployment rate is a ratio of the unemployed to the entire labor force. The rate can stay about the same, as it did in February, despite a loss of jobs, if there are fewer people in the workforce.

The official definition of the workforce is everyone who has a job or is looking for one.

"If you aren't looking, you are not part of the labor force and you don't get counted," said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Commerce Bancorp Inc., of Cherry Hill.

The February unemployment rate may look stable at 4.8 percent - up from 4.5 percent a year ago, but down from 4.9 percent in January.

However, another unemployment statistic that adds in workers too discouraged to look for employment and people working part-time because they cannot get full-time work has risen almost steadily since last year to just below 9 percent.

One component of that statistic is the number of people working part-time out of economic necessity - either because their full-time hours were cut or because they could not find a full-time job.

A year ago, 4.2 million worked part-time for those reasons. Now, the number is up to 4.8 million.

The monthly Labor Department report is 28 pages of statistics. Some tell a "people" story about what's happening to workers, while others examine the job situation from the business perspective.

Of 274 broad industry clusters, fewer than half are now expanding employment. This "diffusion" statistic is particularly alarming - and illuminating - because it is given in one-month, three-month, six-month and 12-month windows.

Looking back over the last year, 54.9 percent of these clusters added or stabilized their workforce. But with each passing quarter, the situation has worsened. In the last six months, the number dropped to just more than half, and the last three months saw an additional drop to 46.9 percent.

Now, looking back one month, the percentage dropped to 45.5. Two years ago, 65.1 percent of the clusters were adding workers.

The only bright spots last month were increases in jobs in health care, government and restaurants.

About 39,000 jobs were lost in construction and 52,000 in manufacturing. Retail declined by 34,000 jobs and business and professional services lost 20,000.

"Until the end of last year, the weakening of the job market was due to less hiring," said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Economy.com in West Chester.

"Businesses were cautious," he said. "They put in hiring freezes, but they didn't reduce their payrolls. They saw it as a storm to be weathered. Now they think the storm is here to stay. They stopped hiring, and now they are laying off."

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