Payrolls Rose in May, But Jobless Scraping By

The Labor Department today reported that the U.S. economy gained 431,000 jobs in May and that the jobless rate dropped to 9.7 percent from 9.9 percent in April.

That was about 100,000 fewer new jobs than analysts' had forecasted and the rise was mainly due to hiring temporary workers for the U.S. Census. Hiring by private employers remained sluggish, raising new doubts about the strength of the economic recovery.

The statistics are not much comfort for people like Dale Rosenberg. She's smart, articulate and cheerful. Her resume glistens with a wide range of sought-after skills and experience working complex technology jobs at the Federal Reserve and Merrill Lynch.

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But since getting laid off from the New York Department of Health 10 months ago, Rosenberg has not been able to find a job. The single mother raising three teenagers in the expensive New York neighborhood of Park Slope desperately needs to find work before her savings run out.

"I've never had trouble getting a job before, but it's a whole different economy now," says Rosenberg, who has supplemented her government unemployment benefits by dipping into retirement savings.

Rosenberg says she does everything one is supposed to do: apply through job sites, e-mail companies directly and network as much as she can. But none of it is helping.

"Truly, a bunch of unemployed people in a room talking to each other doesn't get you a job," she says.

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Long-Term Unemployment at Record High

This is the job hunt in the wake of the great crash. Almost 6.7 million Americans have been out of work longer than six months, with more than half -- 4.7 million -- jobless for more than a year, according to the U.S. Labor Department. This is the highest level since the government began tracking data in 1948, and experts say it's a particularly painful hallmark of the current recession.

"Regular unemployment is what happens in a normal recession, when companies lay off workers for a short period of time and then hire them back when the economy recovers," says Edward Stuart, an economics professor at Northeastern Illinois University.

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This time, however, tight credit markets and weak consumer spending have dried up company finances, making it very difficult for them to add new workers.

In addition, the recession has hit some industries -- such as construction and manufacturing -- especially hard, which means that workers in those areas might find it almost impossible to land another job in their sector.

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Jason Ferrara, a senior career advisor at CareerBuilder.com, says workers in such industries would be better off transitioning to another industry. A CareerBuilder.com shows that 64 percent of workers laid off in the last six months who have found a job ended up in complementary industries.

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"Think about the skills that you have that can be transferred," he says.

A project manager from the manufacturing sector, for example, might be able to use her skills in IT.

In order to highlight transferable skills, he suggests structuring the resume around relevant functions instead of listing jobs chronologically.

Ferarra also notes that employers tend to favor job candidates who seem energetic and engaged in the business.

The advice sounds easy enough to follow, but the reality is much harder. Job hunters say it's difficult to remain energetic after you have mailed in your 100th resume and pitched yourself to dozens of strangers at countless networking parties.

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Financial pressure makes the process worse.

While the Labor Department's definition of long-term unemployment starts at 27 weeks, many workers feel the pinch much sooner. State unemployment benefits only guarantee a percentage of one's income for 26 weeks, and workers usually have to pay for health insurance out of their own pockets.

Luckily for job hunters, Congress extended these benefits up to a maximum of 99 weeks when it passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act last year, and it currently is debating another extension.

Job hunters also complain about the emotional agony. Lesley Pink, a former marketing professional at a white-shoe New York law firm, says being unemployed for months on end is psychologically harrowing.

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Rollercoaster of Emotions

Pink says she felt humiliated and angry when she was unceremoniously dispatched from her job five months ago. Since then, she has been through many stages.

"It's a rollercoaster of emotions," she says.

One day, she has a promising meeting and begins feeling optimistic, only to be pulled down again the next day when she doesn't hear back.

"I've never been unemployed before," she says, "so I'm learning to navigate the ups and downs."

While it helps those who have been unemployed for a long time to know that others are in the same boat, it's easy to fall into self-loathing.

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Garrett Dale, who lost his job in December of 2008 and used his time to start a website -- The 405 Club -- for others without work, says it can be depressing to look around see others with jobs.

"It's a real blow to the ego," he says. "You're walking around the street and you see people who have a suit on, and you wonder why they have a job and you don't."