Michael A. Fletcher and Dana Hedgpeth
March 9, 2010
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
Millions of Americans have been forced to rely on unemployment payments for extended periods as the nation struggles through its longest period of high joblessness in a generation, and critics are taking aim, saying that the Depression-era program created as a temporary bridge for laid-off workers is turning into an expensive entitlement.
About 11.4 million out-of-work people now collect unemployment compensation, at a cost of $10 billion a month. Half of them have been receiving payments for more than six months, the usual insurance limit. But under multiple extensions enacted by the federal government in response to the downturn, workers can collect the payments for as long as 99 weeks in states with the highest unemployment rates — the longest period since the program’s inception.
The unemployed say extensions help to tide them over in unusually difficult times when jobs are hard to come by. Although unemployment held steady at 9.7 percent in February, millions of jobs have been lost in the downturn, particularly in the hardest-hit sectors including real estate, construction, manufacturing and financial services. Those jobs are unlikely to return even when the economy recovers, many experts say.