Minnesota employers slashed jobs at an astonishing rate last year, scrambling to adjust to a worldwide recession that looks to be both deep and long.

By the end of 2008, a total of 55,400 jobs had vanished. The state's unemployment rate stood at 6.9 percent, up from 4.9 percent at the end of 2007. State economist Tom Stinson predicts no improvement this year. Nationwide, 2.6 million jobs disappeared in 2008, the most since World War II. The unemployment rate was 7.2 percent, but that doesn't include people involuntarily working part time and those who have given up looking for work. When they're added, the rate is 13.5 percent.

Federal stimulus plans aren't expected to turn the unemployment tide in 2009. The national unemployment rate is expected to approach 9 percent in 2009. Minnesota's highest unemployment rate, 9 percent, was recorded in 1982.

How tough will finding a job be in 2009? To find out, the Star Tribune will follow five Minnesotans who recently were laid off. They are a CEO, let go from the company he started; a recruiter who now hopes to be recruited; a nurse, laid off before she even finished employee orientation; a trainer of ice cream franchisers, and a marketing assistant at a hair care company.  They will share their stories with readers, including the triumphs and frustrations of trying to find work. We hope you will join that conversation.