Tolling grimly higher, the recession snatched more than 650,000 Americans' jobs for a record third straight month in February as unemployment climbed to a quarter-century peak of 8.1 percent and surged toward even more wrenching double digits.
The human carnage from the recession, well into its second year, now stands at 4.4 million lost jobs. Some 12.5 million people are searching for work - more than the population of the entire state of Pennsylvania.
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.
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."
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," Mr. 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.
Employers also are holding hours down and freezing or cutting pay as the recession eats into sales and profits.
The unemployment rate leapt to 8.1 percent from 7.6 percent in January, the highest in more than 25 years. Economists expect the unemployment rate to continue for months.