|By Sam Kennedy, The Morning Call, Allentown, Pa.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Now, however, Hillman is bracing for an abrupt end to the roughly
"I'll have to get a job," he said, adding after more thought, "It will probably mean two jobs."
He'll need two jobs because he'd have to accept lower wages in a new line of work outside of his narrow field of expertise. "I'll have to start over," Hillman concluded.
Assistance for the long-term unemployed -- those out of work for more than six months -- is emerging as a defining issue heading into the presidential election year. Democrats tend to frame unemployment benefits as a basic element of the nation's safety net, and one that doubles as a powerful economic stimulus. But more and more Republicans see such entitlements as a costly disincentive to work.
The two sides disagree over not only how long future benefits should last, but also how to pay for them: Democrats want to fund an extension through a tax increase on people earning more than
Though the outlines of the debate are familiar, the stakes are unusually high: Never before has the federal government cut off unemployment insurance with so many people out of work for so long.
The closest the government has ever gotten to taking such dramatic action was in 1985, when the nation's unemployment rate was 7.2 percent, according to
Not counting those who have quit looking for work, the country had 13 million unemployed workers last month. The average duration of their unemployment was an all-time high of nearly 51 weeks.
Normally, unemployment insurance is a state responsibility, and the unemployed are eligible to receive it for a maximum of 26 weeks. The federal government, however, usually provides extended coverage during an economic downturn.
As the economy slid into recession in 2008,
All told, some of the unemployed may receive assistance for up to 99 weeks.
Since its initial passage, EUC has been reauthorized nine times. But the issue has become increasingly contentious since the 2010 mid-term election when Republicans who campaigned on the promise of fiscal restraint gained control of the
This year, Democrats had hoped reauthorization would be part of any budget agreement with Republicans. But the matter is back before
Hanging in the balance are the benefits of 1.8 million Americans out of work for more than 26 weeks. That includes 280,000 Pennsylvanians and 14,000
Without EUC reauthorization by the end of the year, some Pennsylvanians will lose their benefits immediately, according to the labor department, which administers federal unemployment insurance. Others will lose theirs in the coming weeks or months under the government's multi-tiered system.
That system offers assistance primarily through three tiers: the first lasting 20 weeks and the second and third each lasting 13 weeks. People would receive checks for the remaining weeks in their tier but would not be allowed to advance into the next tier.
Assistance for those who have already exhausted their EUC benefits but are receiving federal Extended Benefits would end on
Paying the bills
"That's the last resort, but it's something I'd have to rely on just to pay the bills," said Raub, 58. "And once that's gone, I don't know what would happen."
Relocating for work is not a realistic option, he said, because he needs to be close to his ailing mother. Additionally, it would require him to sell his house in a down market, only adding to the financial strain.
Meanwhile, a bad back means certain kinds of physical labor, such as distribution center work, are out of the question.
"I've been applying for anything I can reasonable do," Raub said. "I've had several interviews lately ... but at the last moment they fell through."
Long-term unemployment benefits have cost the federal government
According to a report by the
"I don't think it was anyone's intent to continue 99 weeks of unemployment benefits indefinitely," he said.
As director of the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board,
Someone "with a master's degree isn't necessarily interested in becoming a welder," she said. "There is a mismatch between what they were doing and what's available."
Yet, she acknowledged, unemployment benefits are supposed to provide short-term help.
"Ninety-nine weeks becomes a lifestyle. So what's the balance? How do we help people?" she said. "Because we don't want them out on the street."
Legislation unveiled Thursday by the House Republican leadership would gradually reduce the duration of federal unemployment insurance to 56 weeks.
"I understand there are people out there struggling," Dent said. "We're really trying to make the program better and more effective for those who are out of work. We want to get them back to work."
On the other side of the aisle are Democrats who say continued long-term assistance for the unemployed makes sense economically and morally.
"Extending unemployment insurance is a win-win for
Technically, the Great Recession ended more than two years ago; economists narrowly define a recession as a decline in economic output. Nonetheless, hiring since then has failed to make up for extensive job losses, let alone accommodate population growth.
The effects of widespread joblessness have rippled throughout the
Yet, long-term unemployment benefits have prevented a bad situation from becoming worse, according to the
Most economists agree that unemployment benefits create a powerful short-term stimulus because recipients usually cash and spend government checks immediately to cover basic needs. According to the law project, federal unemployment insurance created or saved 1.1 million jobs annually during peak reliance in 2009.
While an end to long-term unemployment benefits would not be catastrophic for the
"They're using that money to buy food, pay rent," he said of those collecting unemployment checks. "If that money goes away ... it's a very negative thing. There are no two ways about it."
In danger of losing benefits
1.8 million Americans
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