No one seems immune: The jobless rate for college graduates has hit its highest point on record, just like the rate for people lacking high school diplomas.
Employers also are holding hours down and freezing or cutting pay as the recession eats into sales and profits. If part-time workers who can't find full-time jobs are counted in, along with those who have simply given up looking, the rate would be 14.8 percent, the highest in records going back to 1994.
The wintertime blizzard of layoffs - nearly 2 million lost jobs in just three months
- is destroying any hope for an economic turnaround this year while feeding insecurities among people who still have jobs as well as those who desperately want to find work.
"In this economy, if you have a family to feed like I do, beggars can't be choosers," said Greg Ovetsky, who lost his job at an information technology company two weeks ago.
Ovetsky, 37, of Staten Island, N.Y., said he'll take any position. "You can rest assured I'll say yes. Get a paycheck, get food on the table."
Across the country, Douglas Walch, 54, worries about losing his job as a park maintenance foreman because his employer of 15 years
- the city of Sacramento - is preparing for layoffs.
"It's the worst I've ever seen it in my lifetime," Walch said.
President Barack Obama, barely a month into his own new job, acknowledged the layoffs were coming at an "astounding" clip but urged Americans to allow him time for his economic revival policies take root.
"This recovery plan won't turn our economy around or solve every problem," Obama said. "All of this takes time, and it will take patience."
For a day, Wall Street seemed to agree. Stocks seesawed up and down before finishing with a modest Dow Jones industrials gain of 32.5 points. Still the Dow was down a dispiriting 6.2 percent for the week.
The Labor Department's report, released Friday, showed pink slips nationwide hitting all categories
- blue-collar, white-collar, highly educated and not.
Employers slashed payrolls by a net total of 651,000 last month - the third month in a row that job losses topped 600,000. It was the first time that's happened in government record-keeping dating to 1939.
"These are gargantuan declines," said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group.
"Horrible," said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at High Frequency Economics.
The unemployment rate leapt to 8.1 percent from 7.6 percent in January, the highest in more than 25 years. Some economists now predict the rate could hit 10 percent by year-end and peak at 11 percent or higher by the middle of 2010.
"The massive hemorrhage of jobs is reminiscent of the 1982 recession when the jobless rate hit 10.8 percent. Unfortunately, it will get much worse," predicted Sung Won Sohn, economist at the Martin Smith School of Business at California State University. "It is hard to see where the bottom is."
Besides the 12.5 million total for unemployed people in February, the number of people forced to work part time for economic reasons rose by a sharp 787,000 to 8.6 million. Those are people who would like to work full time but whose hours were cut back or were unable to find full-time work.
If those people - along with discouraged workers - were factored in, the rate would have been 14.8 percent in February.
The jobless rate for people with bachelor's degrees or higher jumped to 4.1 percent. And the rate for people without a high-school diploma climbed to 12.6 percent. Both are the highest in records dating to 1992.