"We're an economy still facing significant headwinds," Ricchiuto says, citing higher energy prices, prolonged weakness in the housing market and continued layoffs in local and state governments. "And against all that, corporations want to record double-digit earnings. They're not hiring workers."
For Wayne Wagner, 63, of Gainesville, Fla., it's four years and counting since he lost his job as a construction superintendent. Unable to find full-time work, he hops on two buses, then rides his bicycle for about a mile to get to his part-time job at a county household hazardous waste recycling center.
"I had all the confidence in the world for the first year or two that I'd find work," says Wagner, who took early Social Security benefits to help pay his bills. "I'm a good worker. It's been rough."
Discouraged workers still discouraged
The number of discouraged workers age 55 and older — people who became so dissatisfied with their job prospects that they recently stopped looking — remained about the same at 270,000 in April, according to Sara Rix, a strategic policy adviser at AARP. She worried that many older workers may never find a job.
"At the rate we are producing jobs, many older workers may give up and drop out of the labor force,” she says. “If they reach retirement age and haven’t found a job, they may say that they might as well retire. If you can’t find a job, at some point discouragement sets in."
More people had taken part-time jobs in April because they couldn't find full-time work. The government said the number of part-timers increased to 8.6 million from 8.4 million in March.
A whopping 8.7 million jobs were lost between December 2007, the start of the recession, and February 2010, the lowest point for employment, says Heidi Shierholz, a labor market economist with the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute in Washington. But only 1.8 million jobs were created between February 2010 and April 2011, she said.
Because the job losses were so large, employers would have to hire 400,000 additional workers each month to drop the unemployment rate to prerecession levels in three years, Shierholz says.
Rocky recovery ahead
"We have 13.7 million unemployed workers, and millions more have given up looking for work," she says. "We are in a rocky recovery."
Other widely watched indicators of the employment situation give evidence of continuing trouble.
For instance, the number of people who filed for first-time jobless benefits rose by 43,000 to a seasonally adjusted 474,000 in the week that ended April 30, the Labor Department reported. It was the highest level since last August. Economists had expected initial claims to drop to 400,000 in the latest report.
According to a separate report (PDF) issued Wednesday by ADP, a company that handles payrolls, private companies added 179,000 jobs in April, the lowest increase since November.
"While employment accelerated sharply around the turn of the year, the monthly gains have been holding fairly steady around 200,000 since then," Joel Prakken, chairman of Macroeconomic Advisers, whose firm helps ADP compile the jobs report, said in a statement. "Employment growth at this pace is consistent with only modest declines in the unemployment rate."
Large companies added 11,000 employees. Small businesses — companies with fewer than 50 workers — added 84,000 jobs. Medium-sized businesses boosted payrolls by 84,000.
Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.