The White House said it is unlikely to see positive employment growth until 2010 even if economic activity begins to pick up later this year, according to a report Sunday.

Christina Romer, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said while speaking on C-SPAN, she expected unemployment to rise even if gross domestic product begins to grow in the fourth quarter of 2009, the New York Times reported. The projection was similar to the one made last week by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

GDP has to grow at a rate of about 2.5 percent before unemployment will fall, said Romer, and it is “unfortunately pretty realistic” the unemployment rate could hit 9.5 percent. A rate of 3 percent is a reasonable GDP-growth estimate for 2010, she said.

Meanwhile, Robert Reich, former labor secretary under President Bill Clinton and an adviser for the Obama campaign, said on ABC’s “This Week” program the rate of growth would have to be 4.5 percent before unemployment levels begin to reverse, reported the Times.

The Department of Labor said Friday the unemployment rate jumped to a 26-year high of 8.9 percent in April. Nonfarm payrolls fell by 539,000, the smallest decline since October’s 380,000. Payrolls have fallen by 5.7 million since the recession began in December 2007.

A separate gauge of unemployment that includes discouraged workers and workers who can find only part-time work rose to a record 15.8 percent.

(c) 2009, MarketWatch.com Inc. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.