WASHINGTON -- The recent recession was deeper than previously estimated, as gauged by the number of jobs lost, the Labor Department reported yesterday.

Nonfarm employment fell 1.8% during the downturn, compared to the previous estimate of 1.4%, according to the Labor Department, which released its annual revision of employment trends.

Each year, the Labor Department revises its method for calculating employment levels to account for an ever-changing economy. Essentially, the old benchmark year, in this case 1990, is replaced with a new benchmark year, 1991, according to the Labor Department.

For example, Labor estimated that 106,000 new nonfarm jobs were added to the economy in February, yielding a total of 108.866 million jobs, under the old benchmark. However, under the new benchmark, only 44,000 new jobs were added to the economy, yielding a total of 108.144, the Labor Department said.

The next employment report will be released Friday and will include a preliminary employment estimate for may and revised estimates for April and March, all reflecting the new benhmark.

Labor Department officials say the change in benchmarks affects broader employment trends, and has little effect on relative monthly changes.

For example, under either benchmark, nonfarm employment peaked in June 1990, then declined until April 1991, and has showed no clear trend since then, Labor Department officials said.

"These adjustments have brought employment levels down commensurately with the march 1991 benchmark revision, but have not materially affected month-to-month trends for that period," according to a Labor Department news release.

The release also said this year's reision "was large by historical standards." This year's revision shaved 640,000 nonfarm jobs, seasonally adjusted, off the benchmark, compared to an average of a 200,000 revision, up or down, per year over the previos decade, the Labor Deparment said.

"The most significant factors contributing to this larger than normal benchmark revision were improvements to universe data reporting procedures and design biases, whose impact may have been exacerbated during this recession," the Labor Department release says.

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