By Jeannine Avers, AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — It hurts more to be unemployed now than the last time the jobless rate hit 10%.
Americans have more than triple the debt they had in 1982, and less than half the savings. They spend 10 weeks longer off the job. And a bigger share of them have no health insurance, leaving them one medical emergency away from financial ruin.
For these reasons, the unemployed are more vulnerable today to foreclosure and bankruptcy than they were a generation ago.
Donald Schenk knows. He's been without work both times. It's worse now, he says.
Back in the early 1980s, when Schenk lost his job at a phone company, he was able to find several temporary jobs — including one testing pinball machines — to make ends meet until he landed full-time work nearly two years later.
But now Schenk, 55, of the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, Ill., has been seeking work for a year and a half after losing his information technology job. Potential employers aren't interested "if you are not a perfect fit," he says.The unemployment rate hit 10.2% in October. All told, 15.7 million Americans are out of work. Add in workers forced to settle for part-time work or those who have simply given up looking, and the rate is 17.5%.
Only twice since World War II has unemployment topped 10% — now and from September 1982 to June 1983. In a few respects, life is better today for the unemployed than it was then.
Unemployment benefits are more generous, adjusted for inflation, and the Internet allows jobseekers to network, scan for openings and apply without leaving home.
And thanks in part to higher home values, Americans are worth more now. Measured in 2009 dollars, net worth comes to about $173,000 per person, compared with $94,000 in 1982, according to Lynn Reaser, president of the National Association for Business Economics.
Even if the average American has a larger cushion to fall back on, times are tough.