The problem is more acute for the millions who owe more on their mortgages than their homes were worth. Millions more faced foreclosure because they couldn't afford the payments on loans they took out during the credit bubble.Elevated foreclosure activity causes negative ripples throughout the economy. Foreclosed properties make neighborhoods less attractive to buyers and delay the recovery of home prices. People who experience foreclosure generally can't qualify for loans, limiting their ability to spend as the economy picks up. ___ Despite recent gains, hiring remains slow. The unemployment rate stands at 7.9 percent, an improvement from the double-digit levels seen at the height of the recession, but still well above the 5 percent level that was considered normal before the recession. Unemployment affects the broader economy and consumers' outlooks in a number of ways. Jobless people contribute less to consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of economic activity. Acrimony over extending long-term benefits for unemployed people has contributed to Washington's rolling series of budget standoffs, rattling the economy. And for every unemployed America, there are many more who feel less secure financially because their own job situations are more tenuous. ____ Daniel Wagner can be reached at www.twitter.com/wagnerreports .