By Jeannine Aversa
AP Economics Writer
Washington (AP)- A Miami woman who exhausted her unemployment aid needs to pay bills.
A Phoenix job-seeker wants a greater sense of purpose.
The economy absorbed a flood of 805,000 new job-seekers last month — the sharpest monthly influx in seven years.
They were driven by economic need, renewed optimism and evidence that more employers are hiring.
They’re right. Companies added a net total of 290,000 jobs in April, the most in four years. Yet so many people poured into the work force that they drove up the unemployment rate from 9.7 percent to 9.9 percent.
Hundreds of thousands more will likely join them in the coming months, drawn by the improving economy and the possibility that Congress won’t continually extend unemployment benefits. Their influx would send the unemployment rate back into double digits before it’s likely to decline. And it will keep competition for jobs intense.
But those who have streamed into the labor force feel they can’t wait any longer. They are people like Laura Gonzalez of Miami, whose on-again job hunt is the product of necessity. Her unemployment benefits cut off in April.
Gonzalez felt disheartened after being laid off from her job as an associate at an investment company early last year. At times, she stopped looking for work.
In the past few weeks, in need of money to pay for food and rent, she began looking more actively. She’s applied for about 10 jobs a day over the past month.
“As much as they say there’s new jobs out there, I don’t see a turnaround at all,” said Gonzalez, 28.
Neither does Julie Anderocci of Phoenix.
Six weeks ago, she lost her job as a customer service representative for Medicaid, the government-run health insurance program for the poor. For the first month, she mainly slept and ate. She was too upset to consider looking for work.
Now, besides needing money, Anderocci said she yearns for the pride and fulfillment a new job would bring.
“I’m working on being optimistic on finding a job — that’s a job in itself,” Anderocci said.
To try to stay positive about her search, she began volunteering at an animal rescue shelter.
“Looking for work at my age is the most stressful thing you can think of,” said Anderocci, 56.
A sense of urgency infuses the job searches of many. Even with Congress’ recent extensions of unemployment aid, hundreds of thousands of people a month could exhaust their benefits within a few months, according to some analysts’ estimates. Under current law, jobless people can draw unemployment aid for up to 99 weeks.
Fear about losing that aid, along with rising job openings, will keep up the stream of new job-seekers.
April’s total of 805,000 new job-hunters — the most since 2003 — won’t likely be topped, economists said, though it didn’t set a record. More than 1 million people engulfed the labor market in June 1983, after the 1981-82 recession. Still, nearly half a million new job-seekers a month are expected in coming months.
That’s why the unemployment rate could top double digits again, economists said. The rate hit 10.1 percent in October.
Ken Goldstein, an economist at the Conference Board, a research group that monitors consumer behavior, said people tend to form a collective feeling that the time is right to look for jobs.
A neighbor mentions openings. An unemployed friend lands work. Expenses pile up. Improving economic signs flash on TV.
Optimism spreads. Suddenly, more people start looking.
“It’s like pulling a brick out of a dam,” Goldstein said.