The U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 7 percent, its lowest point in 5 years. Employees added 203,000 jobs to payrolls in November, a bit better than economists' predictions of 180,000. But Julia Coronado, chief economist, North America for BNP Paribas in New York, says that like a lot of good economic news lately, this one comes with an asterisk.
"You need to be careful here. The government shutdown impacted the numbers. There's been a lot of volatility," Coronado says. "If we smooth over the last few months, the picture is still one of the labor force is declining. The participation rate has been dropping quite rapidly, and that combined with decent job gains is driving a fairly rapid decline in the unemployment rate."
But while many different kinds of employers are adding jobs on paper, out in the real world, searching for a job is still tough for too many Americans. Maureen Cunningham is one of them. The 51-year-old recently moved to Venice, Florida from Philadelphia with her retired husband. She was working for a company from home until October, when her employer eliminated her position. So far, Cunningham is having a difficult time finding a replacement.
"I'm finding that the wages here are quite a bit less than what I currently make, so I'm thinking I might need to go into something else," Cunningham says.
While Cunningham says her husband is happy to have her at home with him all day "making pancakes," she says being out of work is taking a psychological toll on her.
"I feel like I need to work," she says. "It gives me a sense of fulfillment to have a job, have a place to go to and be at. I don't do well when I don't have a job, so it's a little bit depressing."
Also of concern to Cunningham is how she will deal with health insurance. Since she was insured through her previous employer, Cunningham says she hasn't paid much attention to recent news about how to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, and now she's playing catch up.
"Now, all the sudden, I'm in a panic, and I'm trying to figure out what my options are and what I should do. And I guess my hope is I'll find something right away and won't have to worry about it. As it is, I'm in a high deductible plan, so getting sick wasn't an option either. But to have nothing and have to find something, I just don't know. It's scary."