As of May, unemployment for 35- to 44-year-olds was 1.8 percentage point higher than in the same month in 2007.
The plight of Gen-Xers also means less support for the economy as they limit spending and concentrate on building up nest eggs, Emmons said.
Matthew Kraft, out of work for about a year, is watching fewer movies at the theater and dining out less. The 39-year-old former public relations manager in New York has filled out more than 110 applications to find something other than entry-level work.
"If this keeps going on for another four or five months, it's going to start to hurt," said Kraft, whose wife works at a hedge fund. "We have been living off of her income and dipping into our savings."
Generation X has already forfeited valuable years of interest compounding by failing to accrue savings early, said Alicia Munnell, the director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College and former research director at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
"Gen-Xers are going to live longer than the current generation of retirees, and the major source of retirement income is going to be smaller," Munnell said. After 40, if "you've put this off, you really have to save at a mind- boggling rate to accumulate enough to retire."
As for Johnson, a mother of a 17-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son, she's more concerned about day-to-day living than about preparing for retirement.
Her home-loan modification "is a Band-Aid for a hemorrhage" as her business continues to struggle, she said. "It'll seem like it's getting better, and then it gets worse."