06/03/2011 06:59 pm ET Updated Aug 03, 2011

Dismal Jobs Report: Job Seekers React

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For the past three months, the millions of Americans who've been getting by on savings and unemployment checks could at least take some comfort in the job reports that the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases on the first Friday of every month. Almost 200,000 new jobs in February, about as many as that in March, and 232,000 in April. Even people who hadn't worked since the recession began had reason to believe that things were looking up.

Yet there were signs all along that things could get worse, and then last month they did. According to Friday's bombshell jobs report, the U.S. economy added only 54,000 jobs in May, far fewer than expected or needed. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate actually worsened by a tenth of a percentage point. For some job-seekers, this news was just too bleak to contemplate.

"The numbers are just so discouraging that after a while there's no reason for me to look at them," said a battle-weary Stephen Brown, a 31-year-old business school graduate from Morristown, N.J.

Brown is among the millions of people for whom today's news landed with an especially heavy thud -– the unemployed, the temps, the part-time contractors. A couple days ago, some of those job-seekers gathered at a workshop in the suburbs of Chicago.

Sherri Gould, a resident of the town of Wilmette, was there. Gould said she worked for a decade in client services at Quest Diagnostics, the company that sends out those metal boxes labeled "Blood and urine specimens only."

When the economy crashed, the metal-box traffic slowed, she said. "Someone who is unemployed and has just lost their health insurance is not going to go to the doctor,” Gould explained. Soon she was among the unemployed herself.

Sixty miles away, in Yorkville, Ill., a man named Robert Castro took his job search to the side of the road. He could be seen standing alongside Route 47 Friday, a cardboard sign in metal frame propped up beside him: "Any Work Wanted."

Castro, 47, said he spent more than a decade at a food distribution company, working his way up from a general worker to a supervisor. The upward trajectory ended when he was laid off a little over a year ago. His unemployment benefits ended about a year after that.

Castro says he's tried the traditional route to employment, the route that doesn't involve standing alongside an actual road. "It's a dead end," he said. “I’ve had job offers, and they say overqualified. I’ll take a pay cut, whatever.” He said this is the first time he's been unemployed since he started washing pans in a bakery when he was 14.

In the past, when people in Danvers, Mass., lost their jobs, they could go to Gia Page for help. Page is a manager at CoWorx Staffing Services, a company that places people in clerical and manufacturing jobs. But her own job's gotten tougher recently, thanks to the lack of opportunities awaiting the people who walk into her office.

"I thought we would have more at this point," she said, "so that’s disappointing."

Nearby, in North Andover, Mass., someone else in the job-hunt business actually sounded a note of optimism today. Jori Blumsack, an accountant at a company that provides job-seekers with video resumes (it's called The Vesume Group), said she's seen a "very strong demand" for the people who come to her firm for work.

Her reaction to the job report: "Wage levels have come down. People that are out of work are not going to go back to making what they made when they lost their job."

While it might be true that people are simply holding out for better pay, it isn't true for everyone. Certainly not Stephen Brown, the business-school grad from New Jersey.

For the past few months, Brown's been holding down a temporary job in consumer-goods marketing that pays almost as much as his old job, which he lost in January 2010. What he wants is a permanent, full-time position, and he's applied for about 500 of them. He says he's had 75 to 80 interviews.

"I started to count," he said, "until I got a little too depressed."

Just yesterday, Brown was rejected from a job that he'd applied for back in October. The company had called him for the first time in January, interviewed him in April and again in May. Recounting the story, he was surprisingly even-toned. Brown said he's trying not to dwell on his frustrations.

"What can I do?" he said. "There's not much I can do, I just gotta keep moving."