*If you lose your job these days, it’s worth scrambling to find a new one – fast. After six months of unemployment, your chances of landing work dwindle.

The proportion of people jobless for six months or more has accelerated in the past year and now makes up 46 percent of the unemployed. That’s the highest percentage on records dating to 1948. By late summer or early fall, they are expected to make up half of all jobless Americans.

Economists say those out of work for six months or more risk becoming less and less employable. Their skills can erode, their confidence falter, their contacts dry up. Their growing ranks also will keep pressure on Congress to keep extending jobless benefits, which now run for up to 99 weeks.

Overall, the economy has created a net 982,000 jobs this year. But for Jeff Martinez and the record 6.76 million others who have struck out for six months or more, their struggles are getting worse, not better.

Martinez, 40, a salesman in Washington, D.C., says he’s logged more than 200 interviews in the past three years. Decked out in a dark navy suit and Burberry tie, Martinez projects drive and a zest for deal-making. And yet the most urgent deal of his career – finding a job – eludes him.

“You have days where you feel motivated and hopeful and optimistic,” he says. “Then there are other days, you really lose the faith and think, `I’m never going to get another job. Ever.'”

What’s causing the rising ranks of the long-term jobless to exceed the pace of other recessions?

Get the rest of this AP report on unemployment HERE.