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What Happens to the Unemployed if There’s No Deal on Jobless Benefits?

December 19, 2011 at 5:00 PM

About 1.8 million Americans will face a cutoff in unemployment benefits in January if Congress doesn't extend emergency federal unemployment insurance (UI) before returning home for the holidays, according to estimates from the National Employment Law Project (NELP). The maps below show the sharp drop in the number of available weeks of benefits across the country. The first map shows the number of weeks of benefits now available through the regular state UI programs and the emergency federal programs (details available here): 12-19-11unemp-map1.JPG The second map shows the number of weeks that will be available if the federal programs expire the first week of January. Note that in six states, workers will have even fewer than the 26 weeks of benefits that state UI programs have historically provided because of cuts that these states made to the regular UI programs this year. 12-19-11unemp-map2.JPG The NELP report (which includes state-specific estimates) says that the 1.8 million workers affected in January include:

  • Over 430,000 workers who became unemployed within the last six months and are receiving benefits through their state's regular UI system, but whose benefits will expire in January, leaving them without access to any federal benefits. (Several hundred thousand unemployed workers exhaust their regular benefits each month -- a trend that will continue over the coming year.)
  • Over 700,000 workers who have been unemployed for over six months and have been receiving benefits through the temporary Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program, which will expire in January. EUC provides benefits in "tiers" of weeks; people receiving EUC when the program expires at the beginning of the year will be allowed to complete their current tier but not move on to the next tier. NELP estimates that over 700,000 workers will reach the end of their current tier and thus receive no further federal benefits in January. Many more will lose EUC benefits prematurely in the months to follow.
  • Almost 650,000 workers who have been unemployed for over six months (most for over a year) and who are receiving benefits through the permanent Extended Benefits (EB) program. Without congressional action, this program will not be available in any state after the first week of January, and all EB recipients will be cut off.

As we have explained , UI is critical both for unemployed workers and for the economy, and the economy is still too weak to allow the current programs to expire. The holiday season will be a whole lot bleaker for millions of jobless workers and their families if Congress does not act this week or next to maintain these critical programs.

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