The U.S. economy lost 524,000 jobs in December and the unemployment rate climbed to 7.2 percent as the total job losses for 2008 reached their highest total since the end of World War II.

The decline in payrolls surpassed forecasts of 6.9 to 7 percent by analysts surveyed by Bloomberg and followed the November drop of 584,000 jobs.

Total job losses for 2008 rose to 2.589 million, the most since 1945, a report from the U.S. Labor Department informed early Friday in Washington.