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Jobless Benefits Dwindle Away

Jobless Benefits Dwindle Away

Maureen Sanders looks for postings at the Employment Connection Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2009, in Parma, Ohio. Sanders, currently unemployed, is a recent graduate and is looking for a job as a dental assistant. New jobless claims fell slightly last week while

TAMARA LUSH | The Associated Press via YellowBrix

September 04, 2009

JACKSONVILLE, FLA. — Jobless since January, Donald Money has already moved in with his elderly parents, stopped going to the movies and started using less of his prescription medication so it will last longer.

This month, something else will fall by the wayside: Money’s unemployment check. The 43-year-old former printing press operator is among the more than 1.3 million Americans whose unemployment insurance benefits will run out by the end of the year, placing extra strain on an economy that is just starting to recover from the worst downturn in a generation.

These are the most unfortunate of America’s 14.5 million jobless: the ones whose benefits are drying up — in some cases after a record 18 months of government aid.

With savings depleted and job opportunities scarce, people are living with relatives and borrowing cash from friends. They are skipping meals. Through it all, they are trying to stay positive through exercise and prayer.

Only small improvement

The Labor Department said Thursday the number of laid-off workers applying for benefits dipped to 570,000 from an upwardly revised 574,000 the previous week. That was a smaller improvement than economists had expected.

The number of Americans continuing to receive benefits jumped to 6.23 million, up 92,000 from the previous week and a troubling reminder of the difficulty people are having finding jobs. The continuing claims data lag new claims by one week.

The recession, which began in December 2007, has eliminated a net total of 6.7 million jobs. That toll is expected to grow today, when the government reports the unemployment rate for August. Economists predict the 9.4 percent jobless rate will rise to 9.5 percent, with 225,000 net job losses in August.

‘Tired of not working’

Money and others like him are scrambling to find work before the government safety net is taken away. On a recent day in Jacksonville, Money attended a church-run job fair in a half-vacant shopping mall. Most of the vendors were vocational schools trolling for students, or recruiters for the military and fast food joints.

Money, who was laid off from a printing business, said he’ll do anything for a paycheck.

“I’m tired of not working,” he sighed. “I just can’t sit at home anymore.”

In the past year, nearly 5.5 million people exhausted their 26 weeks of standard benefits without finding work. The government says the “exhaustion rate” is the highest on records dating from 1972.

Some 3.4 million people now depend upon extended benefits approved by Congress lasting from 20 weeks to a year — the longest period of extensions ever added.

The length of these extensions vary by state, depending on the unemployment rate. More than half of all states have unemployment rates that triggered 53 weeks of extended benefits. Texans can get up to 72 weeks.

The government does not track how many jobless Americans have exhausted their standard and extended benefits, but experts estimate the figure to be nearly 100,000 — and rising.

Trying to maintain a good attitude is key, said Mike Allen of Riverside County, Calif., who received about 13 weeks of unemployment benefits this year. He wasn’t eligible for more because he owned his own business and didn’t pay enough into the state’s unemployment fund to qualify for more aid.

Allen, 41, moved his wife and 15-year-old daughter into his parents’ home in August.

“They’ve got a small house,” Allen said. “But it’s a roof. We’ll help out with food.”

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