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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Four Years of Unemployment Benefits? What's That About?

Why are we giving people FOUR years of unemployment benefits?  Isn't it time to stop?
(Note:  This is an update based on an article I wrote two years ago.)

NOBODY IS GETTING 4 YEARS of unemployment benefits, no matter what someone has told you about his ne'er-do-well brother-in-law.

At the peak of the recession, the maximum number of weeks of unemployment was 99.  Now only Alaska offers 86 weeks of unemployment benefits.  In all other states, the maximum is 73, and 73 weeks are only available in about 8 states.  Most states have no more than 63 weeks available.  The number of weeks is going down every month as the unemployment rates of the various states goes down.

The extension of unemployment benefits with the fiscal cliff deal DOES NOT increase the number of weeks for people who have already exhausted their unemployment benefits.  Those people who were laid off in 2008, 2009, 2010, and early 2011 exhausted their benefits months ago.  Sometimes somebody goes back to work for a while, is again laid off, and has worked enough that they can again collect some unemployment benefits.  It may seem as though they are collecting more weeks of unemployment, perhaps totaling four years, but in effect, they have started a new benefit year of collecting unemployment after requalifying for benefits through employment.

The extension that was passed as part of the fiscal cliff deal assures that people who were laid off in late 2011 or 2012 have some extra weeks of benefits.  Again, with the exception of Alaska, nobody is getting more than 73 weeks right now, and people in most states are getting AT MOST 50-60 weeks.

Have there ever been more than 99 weeks of unemployment available?

No.  Not in the United States.  I've heard of stories from people who claim that they got some kind of disaster unemployment on top of regular unemployment after 9/11.  I've also read that ex-military might get some extra weeks,  but I haven't seen any confirmation of that situation. 

Right now (as of March 2013) the maximum available number of benefit weeks is 86 weeks in Alaska and seventy-three weeks in 7 other states or territories.  All other states and territories get fewer than 73 weeks.The number of weeks depends on the state unemployment rate and specific state laws.  The number of unemployment weeks changes fairly frequently.  CNN has a map on their site, but it is not up-to-date.  The map below, from    this page at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, appears to have accurate, up-to-date data on the number of weeks available in the various states:

Here's another article that answers the question:
How Many Weeks of Unemployment Will I Get?

Here are some answers to comments and questions that I've heard repeated over and over: 

  • When does the 99 weeks stop?

    It has already stopped for everyone. Nobody still getting unemployment benefits will get 99 weeks unless the economy seriously tanks in the next few months.
  • Why should the government keep paying people who are out of work for a year and a half?
    Bottom line:  Because there are
    STILL not enough jobs, and people who are among the long-term unemployed are among the last to be hired back as the unemployment rate goes down.  The long-term unemployment numbers (people who are unemployed for over 27 weeks) have gone down, but they are still very high, with 4,797,000 people reporting themselves as unemployed for 27 weeks of longer in February 2013.

    YOU will benefit from these people getting unemployment checks vs. getting nothing.  There is more money in the economy, more people buying food, clothing, and other items, and fewer people losing their homes.  That helps YOU. There is less of a chance that YOU will lose your job or business because demand for whatever you produce goes down.
  • These unemployed people are too picky.  Anybody who wants to work can get a job in a half a year.
     Just Take Any Job! .  Only people who have been out of work for an extended period of time should make comments like this.  Yes, things are getting better, but still:  If you haven't been looking for work in this economy, you need to consider yourself very lucky and keep your mouth shut.  As it is, right now there are STILL more than 3 jobseekers for every job opening.  (That's down from 7 jobseekers for every job opening in late 2009 and early 2010, but it's still a tough job market.)  Anybody who thinks that "anybody" who is unemployed can get a job that they can actually do is a blithering idiot.
  • We are encouraging these people to stay on the government dole.  Studies have shown that the longer people get unemployment compensation, the longer they stay unemployed.
    Actually, studies show that there is 
    little or no correlation between the length of time someone stays on unemployment compensation and the length of unemployment, and any correlation may be the reverse:  People need to look for work to get unemployment benefits, so they stay in the labor market.  Some of the studies that people reference were not done when the economy is as bad as it has been recently.  Some studies suggest that extended benefits KEEP people looking for work.  (Though to be honest, I can't figure that one out...If you really need a job, why would you STOP looking for work when your benefits stop?)
     If you believe this is true, then why are there so many people who have exhausted all of their benefits and still can't find work?  Wouldn't they have all found work in the month that their benefits expire?  Right now (as of March 16th, 2013) we have over 12,000,000 people unemployed in total, and only 5,288,000 are collecting unemployment benefits.
  • My brother/sister-in-law/next door neighbor was laid off, and he/she found a job in a month!
    Good for them!  Perhaps he/she knew somebody.  Perhaps he/she had some skill set that is in demand.  Perhaps he/she is younger or more attractive.  Perhaps he/she was just plain lucky.  Also, people recently unemployed (unemployed in the last 3-6 months) are going to be favored over people who were laid off at the beginning of this crisis.
  • My brother/sister-in-law/next door neighbor was laid off two years ago, and he/she just sat around on the "government dole".
    Unless you have frequent conversations with this person, you really have no idea what they have or haven't done in terms of finding work.  If they see you as unsympathetic to the plight of the unemployed, why would they tell you anything of their job search?

    Perhaps he/she had significant savings and could actually take things easy for awhile.  Perhaps he/she has some other source of income, such as a working spouse, and he/she could actually take things easy for awhile.  Perhaps he/she is on the computer day in and day out looking for and following up on leads and he/she isn't confiding in you.  Perhaps he/she is too embarrassed to tell you that they are consistently looking for work and not finding anything.

    Anybody without significant savings and/or a working spouse is going to struggle if he or she is trying to get by on unemployment compensation, which averages about $300 a week.

    If you really think this person is cheating on the government
    (In other words, this person is collecting unemployment and NOT actively looking for work), AND this is as offensive to you as hedge fund managers getting billions a year on their machinations of the economy OR CEO's getting millions a year while they lay off and off shore workers, then, by all means, call your local unemployment office and report those poor saps for taking advantage of the "handout" of an average of $300/week.
  • The unemployment rate is going down, why do they still need unemployment compensation?
    About the people applying for unemployment:  We still have a higher NUMBER of people applying for and collecting unemployment than we had during 2005 to 2007.  The unemployment
    RATE is still higher than it was back then due to the severity of this economic downturn.  Generally in past recessions and downturns, extended unemployment benefits have been offered until the unemployment rate dipped below about 7%.  The unemployment rate is 7.7% now in March 2013.

    Some people have a hard time understanding that "better" does NOT equal "good" or even "good enough".  We still have more people unemployed than we had back in 2008, and we have higher numbers of people working part-time work who want full-time work, and people who are not looking for work because they are "discouraged" about their prospects of finding a job.  Not only that, but many people who are now employed have returned to temporary work or work that pays less than what they earned before they were laid off.

    Unemployment and underemployment is still a really big, serious problem.  Only people who have their heads in the sand or are on the payroll of some right-wing organization could possibly believe otherwise.
  • I don't think there is anything wrong with continuing unemployment benefits as the economy sucks.  But we don't have enough money in the government's coffers to keep paying people.
    No, we don't have that money in our back pockets.  If you are a deficit hawk, you are more concerned about the size of the deficit than you are concerned about the impact of cutting government spending to the quick on a fragile economy.  The amount of money for extended benefits for two million people could cost us as much as 15 billion this year.  That's a nice chunk of change, but it is rather small compared to many of the other numbers in the federal budget, and the people getting that money pump it right into the economy.
  • Why should we provide for people who can't find work in 60 or 70 or more weeks, even if they have been looking for work?

    Maybe because it is the humane thing to do.  Do we really want people starving on the street?  And is it better for the economy for people to have some money to spend vs. not having any money to spend.. .and then  turning into "losers" who really are stuck on the government dole for good?  And what good does it do to your bottom line ... to the value of your home or your neighborhood...... if you have a string of foreclosed and vacant homes on your street?  You do know that now, for the past few years, the biggest reason for foreclosures is job loss, not adjustable mortgage payments?

    June 2013 reports from the official Bureau of Labor Statistics are available now Friday, July 5th.  Check HERE!!


  1. In the UK, you get unemployment benefit forever - crazy, wish we had more of a system like this!

  2. Good for you Molly, Somebody needs to open these peoples' eyes. So many people think it is a party to sit at home and look for a job and worry because you can''t find anything wonder how your going to pay your bills month after month and what is going to happen if you don't find anything before the benefits stop will you be out on the street???? well these people who never have lived paycheck to paycheck couldn't possibley understand and that's why they can sit in thier expensive homes drive thier expensive cars collect thier 6 figure checks and bitch about unemployment Hope that they can sleep at night!!!


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