11/02/2012 10:06 am ET

Jobs Report Shows Improvement; Unhelpful To People Without Jobs

The U.S. Labor Department announced Friday morning that in October, the economy added 171,000 jobs and the national unemployment rate ticked up a tenth of a percentage point to 7.9 percent.

Political observers hotly anticipated the jobs report for any sign it could affect next Tuesday's presidential election, but what does the news mean for unemployed people who want jobs?

The jobs added, along with an increasing labor force participation rate, suggest an improving economy. But Rosanne Bono, who has been unemployed off and on ever since the start of the Great Recession four years ago, said she doesn't think a rising tide necessarily lifts her boat.

"I think at one time it would have, but I don’t know that it does right now," Bono, 58, said in an interview on Friday. "I guess just because it's been so long."

Bono's been working, but she hasn't had a full-time job in her field in a while. She used to be a product designer working for several companies that produced bedding and decorative home furnishings. When the housing sector crashed hard, Bono's career crashed with it. Since then, she's freelanced in her field and held a stream of part-time retail and sales gigs. Her most recent job ended last month when the inn where she'd worked as a hostess closed down for the winter.

"I have bounced from one thing to another, not because it was something good for me, but because I was in a place of desperation," said Bono, who lives near Asheville, N.C. "I sold cosmetics, I sold furniture, I sold oriental rugs."

Data reflects Bono's experience. Most of the jobs recovered since the official end of the Great Recession in 2009 have been low-paying, according to the National Employment Law Project. And the U.S. Labor Department has found that many of the people who are back to work after losing jobs in the recession are earning less money.

As for the election, Bono said she's hoping for an Obama win, in part because she has a precancerous condition in her esophagus, but can't afford doctor visits to keep tabs on it. Mitt Romney has promised to repeal Obama's health care reform law if he wins. A second term for Obama should mean affordable health insurance for Bono in 2014, when the law's major provisions take effect. The law will ban insurers from discriminating against sick customers and offer premium subsidies for people with lower incomes.

"This is the last chance I have to afford to get health care," she said. "I have some serious conditions that are not getting addressed."

For a while in 2008, Bono maintained her former employer's health insurance policy at full cost through the government's COBRA program. She got laid off too early to be eligible for the 2009 stimulus bill's COBRA subsidy and eventually gave up on the notoriously unaffordable program, which only lasts 18 months anyway.

The prolonged period of underemployment occasionally gives Bono a bit of self doubt, though she's determined to work hard even for low wages if she has to.

"I feel humiliated and trapped," she said. "I do realize that there are lots of people who are worse off than I am, and still a lot of things I have to be thankful for. But I have never been somebody who expected a handout. I want nothing more than to work hard again."