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Jobless about to take big hit from sequester

The 11.7 million Americans still unemployed are finding their wallets getting even lighter as the sequester federal spending cuts kick in.

While the mandated decreases have been slow to trickle into the real economy, the unemployed are feeling the first big jolt.

As of July 1, the average weekly benefit of $289 will fall by $43 a week, adding pressure at a time when the labor market is trying to find its bearings but has yet to generate the kind of employment that would indicate a strong recovery.

Sharon MacGregor, a 43-year-old graphic designer by trade, lost her job about a year ago when the medical education company she worked for went under. Since then, she's struggled to find work and now has to contend with less unemployment compensation.

"It's horrible, I never thought it would be like this when I got let go," she said. "I've been laid off before and found a job in a couple of months. I thought I'd be fine."

MacGregor joins the ranks of 120,100 unemployment insurance recipients in New Jersey who will see their average compensation drop 22.2 percent, according to the National Employment Law Project.

The current typical unemployment insurance check for the Garden State runs $382, but will be reduced by $85.

As she traverses the rough unemployment terrain, MacGregor finds herself bartering for services at the hair and nail salon and counting on her Christian faith to get her through.

"I believe in God. I'm keeping my patience. For me, that's how I get by," she said. "Something definitely needs to be done."

The cuts have come about as Congress debates how to handle the spending cuts mandated after it failed to reach a deficit-reduction deal last year.

While the spending pullback has helped reduce the national budget deficit and has had only incremental effect on first-half growth, economists worry that the full effect will be felt in the final six months of the year.

"They just don't care. The government is doing absolutely nothing to stimulate job growth," MacGregor said. "They've just swept this under the carpet."

Some of the sequester effects on jobs appear to have turned up in the June non-farm payrolls report, which showed the economy added 195,000 jobs while the unemployment rate held at 7.6 percent.

During the month, the number of workers holding part-time jobs for economic reasons swelled by 322,000 to the highest level since October.

How that plays out nationally likely will depend on location.

New Jersey and Maryland led the pack of states cutting back on benefits at 22.2 percent each, followed by Montana (19.6 percent), Connecticut (19.2 percent), and Arizona and Illinois, both at 16.8 percent.

In states where the jobs picture is more robust, the cuts are lower.

Texas, for instance, is reducing its typical benefit by 10.2 percent. The state has a 6.5 percent jobless rate—well below the national level—and has 118,500 on unemployment insurance.

Jordan Douglas was one of those who relied on the benefit program while studying to get her licensed vocational nursing degree.

Douglas, 25 and a single mother living in the small panhandle city of Pampa, lost her nursing job in February 2012 and how has three positions—one full-time and two part-time jobs she has thanks to a big demand in her field.

"It's awesome and I couldn't have done it without unemployment," she said. "I literally got unemployment all the way up until April and I graduated in May. There just would have been no way I could have made it."

For the jobless about to feel the sting of benefit cuts, then, Douglas' story at least provides some hope.

"I don't know if it was the economy last year or what. Now that I have a different degree it was a littler easier to find a job," she said. "I got my first check and it was double for two weeks what I made in a month. It feels pretty good."

--By CNBC's Jeff Cox. Follow him @JeffCoxCNBCcom on Twitter.