Just one in five people who were out of work last summer have found jobs since then.
Of more than a thousand unemployed people surveyed by Rutgers University researchers last August, just 21 percent had landed a job by March, a followup survey reveals. Two-thirds remained "unemployed" according to the government's definition -- the rest gave up looking for work altogether, either going to school or retiring early.
"It's a pretty grim study," said Cliff Zukin, one of the authors of the report at the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers.
Here's how this grim finding looks graphically:
Of the people who found work, only 13 percent found full-time jobs, and 61 percent said their new gig was just "something to get you by while you look for something better."
Seventy percent have been looking for work for longer than six months, the survey found -- up from 48 percent in the summer. (In March, the number of people out of work for that length of time increased by 414,000 month to 6.5 million, representing 44.1 percent of all unemployed.)
To cope, 70 percent dipped into retirement funds, 56 percent borrowed money from family or friends and 45 percent turned to credit cards. Forty-two percent skimped on medical care, 20 percent moved in with family or friends and 18 percent visited a soup kitchen.
"The cushion's completely gone," said Zukin. "I think we're looking at more cutting the core... It's a much deeper economic gash this time."
But while the employment situation has worsened, feelings have muted. In August, the intensity of people's distress was the salient thing. For instance, 79 percent of the unemployed described themselves as "stressed" -- that number dropped to 49 percent in March. There was a similar drop in people describing themselves as depressed, anxious, helpless, angry, hopeless, hopeful or motivated.
"My guess is that it's harder to sustain that emotion, which is based on upheaval, as it becomes normal to you," said Zukin (who stressed that he is not a psychologist). "So they're dealing with it better. Being unplugged for a long time makes you make your peace with it."
Long-term unemployment is even worse for people over 50, only 12 percent of whom found jobs since August. One of the survey respondents explained a common view of jobless folks over 50: age discrimination is to blame.
"Although there is nowhere on a CV/resume that you state your age, employers can tell how many years you have worked," the person wrote. "I have been interviewed for positions requiring experience by managers more than half my age, and they can barely contain their disdain -- despite the fact that my work experience is far greater than theirs."
Unemployment for people over 55 has surged by 331 percent over the past decade, according to the AARP. Age-discrimination complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission office have been higher since the start of the current recession than in any previous two-year period.
Click HERE to download a PDF of the report, titled "No End in Sight: The Agony of Prolonged Unemployment."