The recession may be ending, but for many unemployed, the pain will continue well after the economy rebounds.
Long-term joblessness is at its highest level since the 1940s, according to the government. In real terms, that means about 5 million people have been out of work for more than half a year.
Economists expect many of those people will continue to struggle in the months ahead.
At Montgomery Works, an employment assistance office just north of Washington, D.C., Jaime Piner, 59, wears a gray suit, lavender shirt and matching tie. He doesn't have a job interview scheduled; he just wants to be ready.
Piner spent 23 years working as a cashier at a gas station in Maryland until he was laid off last year. He has been hunting for work ever since, but most businesses aren't hiring.
Piner doesn't blame them. He recalls asking the owner of a beer and wine store for a job recently.
"He said, 'I would like to hire you, but look in my store.' And it's true. You go in the store, it's like ghosts," Piner says. "It's nobody, just the cashier standing there or somebody stacking some stuff. But there's no customer."
'A Game Of Musical Chairs'
One reason people like Piner have been out of work so long is because consumer spending hasn't recovered. Last month, retail sales actually dipped 0.1 percent, according to the Commerce Department. Until they see real demand, most businesses don't want to start hiring.
Another reason people can't find work is competition.
Brad Tsakeris, of Bethesda, Md., worked in wholesale mortgage lending for eight years; he lost his job in March. He comes to Montgomery Works to get help with his resume.
Tsakeris insists he never dealt in subprime loans. But that hasn't made his job search any easier.
"I've applied for, gosh, hundreds of sales jobs," he says. "I've kind of been blast e-mailing my resume out, hoping to get a response from anybody. They're so overwhelmed with resumes coming through the door. ... If you don't have a standout resume, you're probably not getting a call back."
Numbers like that are typical of today's labor market, says Andy Stettner, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project, which helps low-wage workers.
"There are six jobless workers for every job opening, so it's a game of musical chairs that most unemployed workers can't win," he says.
Starting Over ... Again
Such long odds are frustrating. As unemployment drags on, some people are running out of their government benefits — and taking it out on others.
Fred Quiroga, a resource specialist at the Montgomery Works office, recalled one woman pushing another out of the way to get to a computer.
"In the last month, we had to call a security guard a couple of times," he says, noting that in the past, "Everything was completely different."
After the recession, many jobs will return. But some won't — especially in sectors that are going through structural changes, such as mortgage finance, the auto industry and high-tech.
That will make it even tougher for people to get back into those fields.
Marissa Rivero, a software developer, had her job outsourced to Asia in January.
"We have a big office in the Philippines and, you know, the hiring is there," she says.
The Philippines — the very same country Rivero is originally from. In the 1980s, she came to the United States, where she built a nice life for herself and her 14-year-old daughter. Now, it seems to be slipping away.
"It's hard to, you know, lose a job and ... restart all over again," she says.
Rivero, who is 50 now, worries her field may be passing her by. And she knows it could take months to find work.
So, she's exploring something new: a government job. In the toughest labor market in decades, Rivero says government work would provide what she needs most: stability.