Mary Bueno lost her $44,000-a-year job as an office manager early last year. The 52-year-old has sent out hundreds of resumes and worked online job sites, but found little on offer besides domestic work.

She has burned through her savings and retirement nest egg trying to hang on to the Bellflower home she shares with her young son. Her 26-year-old daughter, a bank teller, recently moved back home to help out with the bills. Bueno has no health insurance, so when she needed to see a doctor her daughter paid the tab. Bueno said she's blessed to have such good children. But she's humbled. And scared.

"No one wants to rely on someone else, especially your kids," Bueno said. "You want to be the one who's there for them."

Bueno is now considering switching careers, maybe pursuing her dream of becoming a substance abuse counselor.

Bernie Doyle, 54, just wants to get back on a building site.

Before he was laid off in 2009 he made nearly $90,000 a year as a construction supervisor on high-end apartment projects in San Diego. He bought a 26-foot boat that he and his wife, Suz'Ette, took out nearly every weekend. He had a sense of pride each time he finished a job on schedule.

"They'll slap me on a job and it's nothing but bare dirt. By the time I leave, the thing is built," said Doyle, his accent betraying his New England roots. "I love it. I live it. I like the pressure. I like dealing with people. I like getting the job done on time."

But the hangover from the nation's building binge is likely to last for years. There are simply too many empty dwellings and too few buyers.

Doyle figures he has applied for more than 100 jobs, including an apartment building handyman and a Home Depot salesman.

"I've had two interviews," he said. "I didn't get either one."

With depression mounting, he once shut off his telephone for three days, stopped checking his e-mail and isolated himself from friends. He's since turned the phone back on but remains discouraged. He now smokes two packs of cigarettes a day. The boat he and his wife used to cruise every weekend is now up for sale. He can no longer afford the payments.

"I never thought I'd be in a spot like I am now, not in a million years," Doyle said. "I guess a lot of other people feel like that too."

Times staff writers Tiffany Hsu, Nathan Olivarez-Giles, Stuart Pfeifer and Ronald D. White contributed to this report.