WASHINGTON (AP) - Economists say the loss of almost 250,000 jobs in the first quarter is yet another sign the country could be hurtling toward recession and possibly a nasty one.
The job loss figure is already comparable to losses at the start of past recessions.
Labor Department data show employers slashed 80,000 jobs in March, the most since March 2003, as the jobless rate climbed to 5.1 percent and the loss of 76,000 jobs in both January and February were deeper than originally reported.
By comparison, there were 355,000 jobs cuts during the first three months of the 2001 recession, and 332,000 in the 1990 recession.
Many economists expect hundreds of thousands more Americans to lose their jobs, one saying it's "the beginning of a protracted period of labor market contraction."