By Vicki Needham - 05/13/12 10:24 PM EDT
More than 230,000 unemployed workers will lose their jobless benefits this weekend as portions of federal programs expire across several states.
All told, 409,300 long-term unemployed Americans in 27 states will have lost upward of 20 weeks of federal unemployment benefits by this past Saturday, even as the many state jobless rates remain high, according to a new analysis by the National Employment Law Project (NELP).
"A growing number of long-term unemployed workers are being left behind," said Christine Owens, executive director of the NELP.
"Job openings are not taking the place of these cuts,” Owens said.
A tier of 13 to 20 weeks of federal jobless benefits, used by the long-term unemployed, are expiring because of legislation Congress passed in February that gradually cuts federal benefits to 79 weeks from 99. That figure includes up to 26 weeks of state-level insurance.
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"These cuts are coming faster than the economy is improving, which means more workers will have to survive without any jobless assistance and families will have less money to put back into the economy,” Owens said.
Since August, the national unemployment rate has dropped to 8.1 percent from 9.1 percent, but most of that improvement is because discouraged workers have stopped looking for jobs.
There are still 16 states and the District of Columbia with rates above that national average in March, according to an April report from the Labor Department.
Even though rates have been dropping across the country, they are still historically high in some states.
Three states, California, Rhode Island (11.1%) and Nevada (12%), have double-digit levels of unemployment.
More than 100,000 will lose benefits in California, state officials have estimated.
By the end of September, another seven states will lose federal benefits, which will eventually bring the total to 34 states facing reduced federal assistance to the long-term unemployed.
Many Democratic lawmakers, including House Ways and Means ranking member Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), whose state has experienced persistently high levels of unemployment, tried to keep 99 weeks for struggling states but lost the fight.
Republicans have called the continuation of extended jobless benefits a drag on the economy, arguing that they discourage the unemployed from looking for work and they are adding to the federal budget deficit.
Still, the long-term unemployed, and those giving up on looking for work, are bogging down numbers for a longer period of time than during other recoveries.
During the first three months of the year, about 29.5 percent of the unemployed had been out of work for a year or more, about 3.9 million people, according to a recent report from the Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative.
The percentage has improved somewhat since reaching its peak in the third quarter of 2011, yet it was still more than triple the 9.5 percent rate at the start of the recession in late 2007, the Pew report said.
Older workers were particularly hard hit in the first quarter, but the number of unemployed mostly cut evenly across all education groups, the report showed.
A separate report showed that among the 15 million workers who lost jobs from 2007 to 2009, half received jobless benefits, and about one-fourth exhausted them by January 2010, the General Accounting Office said in February.
That means 2 million displaced workers exhausted benefits by early 2010, and another 3.5 million used up their benefits for the rest of that year and into 2011.
In 2010, approximately 66 percent of jobless workers qualified for either state or federal unemployment benefits.
Last year, that number fell to 54 percent, according to the GAO report.
Many of the displaced workers who exhausted their benefits by January 2010 appear to have faced troubled circumstances.
Most, however, seemed to have worked at some point in 2009 or to have been supported by a spouse who was working, and some had income from assets to help them along.
Nevertheless, their poverty rate ticked up for working-age adults, to 18 percent compared with 13 percent, and more than 40 percent had relatively low incomes, below 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold, the GAO report showed.
Continuing expirations of federal benefits will eventually push the percentage of unemployed receiving some form of unemployment benefit to less than one in two, NELP said in its report.
Job creation has crawled along since the recession ended in July 2009, with only 43 percent of the jobs lost regained 34 months later, according to an Associated Press analysis.
Following the previous recession, which ended in November 2001, the rebound was similarly slow at first. By September 2004, 54 percent of the jobs lost had been regained. But five months later all job losses were recovered, according to AP.
This time around, it will take longer to recover 8.8 million in job losses.
Average unemployment is now 39 weeks, and 41 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for six months or more. Almost one-third have been unemployed for more than a year, NELP said.
“We can’t pull the rug out from under the unemployed before the economy is fixed, and with 8.1 percent unemployment, we still have a long way to go,” Owens said.
"Especially now that these cuts are taking a toll, lawmakers need to pursue aggressive strategies to put the long-term unemployed back to work."