American employers added 151,000 jobs in October, but the growth was not fast enough to lower the unemployment rate, which remained stuck at 9.6 percent, the government reported Friday.
Government employment held roughly steady, allowing private-sector growth to produce the first net increase in jobs since May. During the summer months, cutbacks in state and local government and the U.S. Census Bureau's temporary jobs had caused the overall numbers to fall.
"We've got jobs growth but it's nowhere near what we need," said Heidi Shierholz, a labor market economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. "The scope of what we've lost is so big that this level of growth isn't going to do it fast. We need 300,000 job growth a month to get the unemployment rate down to pre-recession levels in five years."
At current rates, she said, it could take 20 years.
The outlook last month was particularly disheartening for older men. The unemployment rate for those age 55 and up grew from 7.9 percent in September to 8.3 percent last month. Men ages 45 to 54 saw a slight decline, from 8.6 percent to 8.5 percent in October.
The pattern for women 55 and older was just the opposite: The rate fell from 6.4 percent in September to 5.9 percent last month. For women ages 45 to 54, unemployment rose from 6.7 percent to 7 percent in October.
Out of work for longer
Older adults tended to be out of work longer than younger people. The average duration of unemployment for workers age 55 and up rose to 44.3 weeks in last month's report from 42 weeks in September's. For those under age 55, the duration grew slightly to 33.2 weeks in October from 32.7 weeks the month before.
"The average duration of unemployment for older workers and the number of long-term unemployed are exceptionally high," said Sara Rix, strategic policy adviser for AARP. "Until we see an appreciable increase in hiring in this economy, older workers will continue to face very bleak employment prospects."
The number of jobless workers stood at 14.8 million last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics report said.
The unemployment rate was at 9.7 percent for men, 8.1 percent for women, 27.1 percent for teenagers, 8.8 percent for whites, 15.7 percent for blacks and 12.6 percent for Hispanics, the BLS said.
For some people, it was so difficult to find a job over the last 12 months that they just gave up on looking. Known as "discouraged workers," their numbers rose by 411,000 from a year earlier to about 1.2 million in October.
Rate state by state
The economic landscape varies around the country. To see the jobless situation by state, go to AARP's interactive "pain index."
The rise in private-sector employment, 159,000 jobs, was higher than most economists had predicted. Temporary-help services continued to record the most employment gains, followed by retail jobs — including automobile dealers and electronics and appliance stores — and health care, the BLS said.
Despite those gains, the government reported Thursday that 457,000 workers filed new applications for unemployment benefits last week, an increase of 20,000. That put weekly claims at the same level as the end of 2009.
Private sector "frustratingly stagnant"
A monthly national employment report released Wednesday by the outsourcing firm ADP showed that private-sector employment "remains frustratingly stagnant," said Gary C. Butler, ADP chief executive, in a statement.
A report by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that downsizing remained flat in October. Employers announced 37,986 job cuts, 2 percent more than in September but 32 percent lower than October 2009. Overall, job cuts were down 62 percent from a year ago, the report said.
There were modest gains in business productivity, but those demands were met by increasing hours of existing workers, not by hiring new people, said CEO John A. Challenger.
"The problem is that consumer spending will not increase until more people have jobs," he added.
On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve announced a plan to boost the economy. It plans to buy $600 billion worth of government bonds to increase demand for them, raise their prices and push down long-term interest rates. That, the plan's supporters hope, will promote economic growth.
Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.