Benefits, jobs in jeopardy with failure to extend unemployment payments

WASHINGTON (RNN) - Two million Americans face losing their unemployment compensation now that Congress has failed to act to extend benefits to the so-called "99-week'ers."

Those are the unemployed who have exhausted their 26 weeks of state-funded and 73 weeks of federal benefits.

Lowest rates of unemployment

  1. North Dakota: 3.8
  2. South Dakota: 4.5
  3. Nebraska: 4.7
  4. New Hampshire: 5.4
  5. Vermont: 5.7
  6. Hawaii: 6.4
  7. Iowa: 6.7
    Kansas 6.7
    Wyoming 6.7
  8. Virginia: 6.8
  9. Oklahoma: 6.9
  10. Minnesota: 7.1

Highest rates
of unemployment

  1. Nevada: 14.2
  2. Michigan: 12.8
  3. California: 12.4
  4. Florida: 11.9
  5. Rhode Island: 11.4
  6. South Carolina: 10.7
  7. Oregon: 10.5
  8. Kentucky: 10.0
  9. Ohio: 9.9
    Indiana 9.9
    Georgia 9.9
  10. Illinois: 9.8
Source: US Dept. of Labor

On Tuesday, Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown blocked a measure that would have extended the benefits through 2011. Critics of the measure have said the $65 million price tag is too expensive.

However, for millions of Americans, those benefits mean food, clothing and shelter for them and their families - and could also be responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

"Extending the federally funded unemployment insurance extensions through 2011 would not only be a lifeline to the families of millions of unemployed workers, it also supports spending responsible for nearly a half a million jobs," the report states.

The benefits have become a hot-button issue, coming just on the heels of President Barack Obama's decision to freeze federal pay. The $65 million price tag, however, could translate to anywhere from $80 billion to more than $100 billion pumped back into the economy, according to various estimates.

The EPI reports that the nation's Gross Domestic Product would jump by $105 billion with the extension, while the Joint Economic Committee says failure to act would drain $80 billion in purchasing power.

More than 700,000 jobs would be supported by the extension, the EPI reports.

"If this program is discontinued, then the economy will lose those jobs," the report says.

Maurice Emsellem, co-director at the National Employment Law Project (NELP), agrees. "There is no positive impact this could have during a terrible recession; people would be left without income," he said.

More than 26 million people are unemployed or underemployed during the longest recession since the Great Depression, according to the NELP.

With some states reporting more than 14 percent unemployment, finding a job can be a frustrating and lengthy experience. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that there is currently one job available for every five applicants.

Jay Thomas is one of those. Thomas has been unemployed since August, and despite sending upwards of 500 applications, he has gotten scant responses from employers.

Although he is only just now eligible for federal benefits and would not be affected by the extension, he is critical of Congress, and says those who stand against the extensions should spend some time in the shoes of the unemployed.

"Congress doesn't seem to care about people anymore," he said. "It's a humbling experience, and I would love for a congressman to live off what I live off of. They may be a little more in tune to what's going on outside of Washington."

Emsellem said that the unemployment rate, now at about 9 percent nationwide, will remain high well into next year. He said most weekly unemployment checks hover around the $300 mark.

"So they have no savings and use that money for [basic] needs - food, housing and transportation," he said.

Many unemployed workers have gone to great lengths to ensure they can get by on what little they may have left. And with Christmas approaching, the situation is especially glum.

"I've downsized, downsized, downsized, but there's a point where you can't downsize anymore," Brandy Parsley told KLTV. "You still need water; you still need heat."

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