With an unemployment rate of 8.8 percent, many economists believe the "discouraged worker effect" has kicked in: Some of the long-term unemployed have become so beaten down they've stopped looking for work altogether, and no longer are among the counted.
But instead of giving up, other "desperate" job seekers have overcome the stigma that comes with certain low-wage jobs, and some even have turned them into careers.
Here's a list of jobs that some of the desperately unemployed have turned to, and what they've made of them:
1. Food service crew member
The definition of "McJob" in the Merriam Webster dictionary is "a low-paying job that requires little skill and provides little opportunity for advancement." McDonald's is trying to turn that definition on its head with a recruiting campaign to hire 50,000 new workers April 19.
"The beautiful thing is that with McDonald's you can take your career where you want it to go," said Ashlee Yingling, a McDonald's spokeswoman.
The average entry level wage is more than $8, and managers can make $50,000 a year, according to Yingling.
George Dys, a 61-year-old unemployed engineer in Rhode Island, said he may apply to work at McDonald's after hearing about the announcement. Dys has been out of work since 2008 and was featured on the website, OverFiftyAndOutOfWork.com.
"I never expected that, but if there's an opportunity, then I'm going to check it out," Dys said. "I would love to go back to work. I really would."
In the past, Dys designed products for such companies as Hasbro and Parker Brothers. Supporting his daughter in high school, he recently obtained a real estate license and got a part-time job with a transportation company. His wife works in the local school system.
"My wife doesn't make a whole lot of money," Dys said. "I can't say I'm desperate, but I'm spending my 401(k) right now."
McDonald's argues that working as a crew member in one of its 14,000 restaurants in the U.S. is not a dead-end job. Yingling said half of its 2,600 franchise owners started by working in one of its restaurants.
"From an opportunity standpoint, you start in a restaurant, learn the business and now own a business," Yingling said. "You work your way up. You could become a restaurant manager, work for corporate or be a franchisee."
Keren Rohe, a sophomore at Harvard University, worked at a McDonald's last summer as part of a summer project with the organization Campus Crusade for Christ. Her assignment was to get hired in one day in a town in New Jersey.
"They wanted us to be able to learn about being a Christian in everyday life," Rohe said. "And in real life, you have a job."
Rohe said she enjoyed her time at McDonald's, and she got along well with her co-workers and managers. She said she earned $7.15 an hour, the minimum wage in New Jersey.
"It was interesting to work outside the Harvard bubble, because I don't think a lot of people at Harvard have worked at McDonald's," Rohe said.
The only thing she didn't enjoy about the job was that "customers were often very rude."
"That was the worst part of the job," she said. "They don't hold a lot of respect for people who work at McDonald's so they don't find the need to be polite. It was still very fun. And you can bond with other co-workers over that negative part."