Little's family is leaning on his wife's income, but with three kids around college age, he has tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, and he estimates about half of his 401(k) has been drained to pay basic expenses. Little said keeping their heads above water means cutting out "frills," middle-class niceties most Americans take for granted, until they're gone.
"The front walk is falling apart… Some of the things in the house we'd normally take care of, we're not." Little's car has well over 200,000 miles on it; his wife's has 150,000. They don't spend money on entertainment or gifts anymore. Maintenance around the house has been deferred, he said.
"We're not desperate, but we will be," he said. "I've looked at jobs that pay half of what I was making at IBM and I would've taken them in a second."
"I was making six figures at one point, and now I'm making $13 an hour temping," said Lisa Casino-Schuetz, a single mother with a master's degree who has taken a string of low-paying jobs to provide for her two college-aged kids.
"In a nutshell, it's devastating," Blustein said. "The psychological consequences are enormous… As people have to take lower level positions, it does confront their own sense of worth in a pretty negative way."
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Even working, Casino-Schuetz makes so little that she rents out a room in her house to a boarder for $500 a month. Her home and a condo she owns are both in foreclosure, and she has had her electricity shut off in the past.
The elimination of emergency extended unemployment last year made things worse, since long-term jobless professionals have to start liquidating their assets sooner.
"Across the board, the people who exhaust long-term benefits get a lot poorer," said Josh Bivens, director of research and policy at the Economic Policy Institute. New EPI research finds that only about a quarter of jobless Americans are drawing unemployment payments, down from a high of about two-thirds in the immediate aftermath of the recession.
Without unemployment benefits, the long-term unemployed must draw down their assets, which presents its own set of serious consequences. Once that money is gone, these families have no financial security today or for retirement.
"Some of them will never get back into the work force," Van Horn said. "Those people... especially folks in their mid-50s and up, they're going to be in very bad shape financially because they can't even take Social Security already," he said. What's more, the benefits they eventually will be able to draw will be less than if they had worked through retirement without interruption.
"You'll basically have more low-income older Americans," he said, who will rely more on safety net programs like food stamps and heating assistance.
"Right now, retirement's out of the picture," Maimone said. "I probably won't retire. I probably will be working until the end the way things look now."