Thursday, October 08, 2009

Unemployment Benefits Running Out for Huge Numbers of Desperate Americans

In ordinary times, unemployed workers who've lost their jobs can draw unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks.

But Congress enacted emergency extensions during this recession, allowing laid-off workers in nearly half the states to collect benefits for up to 79 weeks, the longest period since the unemployment insurance program was created in the 1930s.

However, in the other 26 states, the unemployed can only collect for a period ranging from 46 to 72 weeks.

Unemployment insurance, with payments averaging just over $300 per week, is now a lifeline for nine million Americans. But that lifeline is about to run out for many of them.

That's because 1.5 million people nationwide are expected to reach the maximum threshold for unemployment insurance benefits by the end of the year, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP).

Perhaps they shouldn't worry; Ben Bernanke says the recession is over.

Despite the Fed Chairman's upbeat attitude, U-6 unemployment - the true jobless rate - now stands at a whopping 17%.

Those who don't find work before their benefits run out will be facing a crisis.

According to Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard, for every job that becomes available, about six people are looking. That creates an enormous amount of competition and leaves many out of luck.

Dr. Katz says that when people exhaust unemployment and health insurance, many of them end up applying for disability benefits, which become a large, unending drain on the Treasury.

So, regardless of whether or not benefits are extended by Congress — yet again — the cost to the already burdened Treasury will be hefty.

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