Clock Ticking On Unemployment Benefits

By Staff
August 3, 2009

From now through year's end, many jobless Americans depending on unemployment insurance could see their benefits come to a screeching halt. That's because extensions of these benefits approved by Congress will be expiring for an estimated 1.5 million people according to projections from National Employment Law Project, a private research group, the New York Times reported over the weekend.

Laid off a year ago from a his job as contractor with a management firm, Jay Ridinger, 54 of Baxter, Tenn. is among those who could be facing a future without benefits, says CNNMoney. Tennessee offers an initial 13 weeks of unemployment insurance, followed by various extensions. "Every time you run out of benefits, you think, 'What the heck am I gonna do?' " Ridinger was quoted as saying. The jobless man, who recalls weeping when he first applied for food stamps, reportedly checks some 80 career websites daily and has sought employment in several states.

A first wave of 650,000 people to lose their unemployment benefits could crash against an already battered economy as of September, CNNMoney reports. Although most states provide 23 weeks of these benefits, congressional extensions--passed last summer and early this year--have allowed laid-off workers in nearly half the states to receive benefits for as long as 79 weeks. This marks the most sustained set of payments, says the New York Times, since the unemployment insurance program was launched during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Some nine million U.S. jobless now depend on unemployment insurance. Their weekly checks average upwards of $300, depending on their state and previous salary or wages. With many of them, like Ridinger, unable to find work, some advocates are urging Congress to extend unemployment insurance once again.

"Never in the history of the unemployment insurance program have more workers been unemployed for such prolonged periods of time," said Andrew Stettner, deputy director of the NELP, in a statement from the group. "With an onslaught of exhaustions just around the corner, Americans still need robust benefits to keep their families and communities above water."

But not all observers back prolonging unemployment benefits. Douglas Holmes, president of UWC, a Washington group that bills itself as the "Voice of Business" on unemployment matters, is among critics of extended jobless insurance. Interviewed by the New York Times, UWC president Douglas Holmes cited signs of economic progress. He argued that is too soon to tack on another extension, calling instead for job creation and training for growth careers.

Observers seeking economic bright spots pointed to mid-July U.S. Labor Department figures on the four-week average of claims, which fell in July to 566,000, its lowest level since January. Yet, the rolls of people on emergency extended state and federal programs kept growing.

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