PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The number of newly unemployed dropped again last week to 403,000 people, providing cautious optimism that the economy might be improving slightly. But that is little consolation to those who have been out of work for months.

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People like Chris Zenak.

“It’s terrible. Trying to make ends meet is just so hard,” he said.

Zenak, a graphic designer from Northeast Philadelphia, was laid off in January. Every day now, he spends at least two hours searching the internet and applying for jobs.

“I’ve probably sent out 70 e-mails. I counted them yesterday, and I got one reply,” he said. And that job opportunity went no where.”

For Zenak this is actually not new. He also lost a job back in October 2008. It took him a year and a half to find a new position then, but he thinks the economy is actually worse now because he says it’s tougher to find work.

“You can’t get a phone number. Half of the companies you can’t get a name, and there’s no e-mail,” he said. “And they all say absolutely no walk-ins.”

“There’s just not a whole lot of jobs being created, and that’s keeping these unemployment applications high, and the unemployment rate is just not going to come down,” says economist Joel Naroff.

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He believes it could be next year before the economy begins to feel stronger, especially to people looking for work. Low home prices and high unemployment is leading to a general lack of confidence, which in turn is preventing consumers from spending money and companies from hiring new employees.

“People now see that they could be unemployed for two years,” Naroff said.

Until the weekly number of new unemployment applications drops below 400,000 for an extended period, Naroff says the unemployment rate will remain consistently around 9 percent.

“Four hundred thousand is roughly the cut point,” he said. “When we get below 400,000 a week, it seems to say that there are enough jobs that the unemployment rate will slowly come down.”

For job seekers, though, there is new help from the world’s largest social network. Facebook is launching an effort called the Social Jobs Partnership to guide the unemployed to new resources and opportunities. The program will also study how people looking for jobs and companies with openings use social media.

To check it out, follow this link: www.facebook.com/socialjobs

Reported by Ben Simmoneau, CBS3

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