The U.S. economy added 290,000 jobs in April, the government reported, buoying hopes for continuing recovery from deep recession.
But the unemployment rate ticked up to 9.9 percent as the labor force expanded with a surge of new people starting the hunt for work.
The jobs gain reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics was about 100,000 higher than many analysts had forecast and marked the fourth straight month that the economy added workers.
About 66,000 were people taken on for the U.S. Census 2010, but most of the new April hires were in the private sector—manufacturing, professional and business services, health care, and leisure and hospitality.
“Companies have a newfound confidence in the future of the economic recovery and on the part of their own business prospects,” Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors, told the Associated Press.
The closely watched jobless rate rose from 9.7 percent, where it had remained for the first three months of this year. There were 15.3 million people out of work in April. A record 6.7 million of them had been jobless for six months or more.
Rate up for older workers, too
Among workers age 55 and older, the unemployment rate increased to 7 percent in April from 6.9 percent in March, the government reported. Men fared worse than women. The unemployment rate for older men rose to 7.5 percent in April from 7.4 percent one month earlier; for women, the jobless rate fell from 6 percent in March to 5.7 percent in April.
Sara Rix, a strategic policy adviser for AARP, says the jump in the number of older “discouraged workers” who gave up looking for a job—335,000 in April from 260,000 the month before—was particularly disturbing. Likewise, the average duration of unemployment for those 55-plus grew to 42.9 weeks from 38.4 weeks.
“The longer they’re out of a job,” Rix says of older workers, “the harder it becomes to reenter the labor force. They become discouraged because they think their chances of finding a job are slim, that employers will find them too old … or that there are other discriminatory factors at work. At some point, many give up the job search.”
Call for extended benefits
Arleen Decker, 61, of Tiburon, Calif., is one of them. She was laid off from her job as a teacher about two years ago amid California’s budget cuts and has been unable to find new work. Her unemployment benefits ran out in March so she started a petition, which has garnered nearly 25,000 signatures, to extend benefits to the long-term unemployed.
Because most of the petition signers have been unemployed for 99 weeks or more, she says, they’ve been dubbed by local media and others as the “99ers.”
“I’ve had to retire although I didn’t mean to and I would go back in a flash,” says Decker, who lost her home to foreclosure in 2008. “My retirement is forever affected. I have to move and downsize from a two-bedroom apartment to a one-bedroom apartment. I’m packing right now.”
About 8.2 million Americans lost their jobs during the recession. The unemployment rate peaked last November at 10.1 percent, a 26-year high.