Saturday, July 9, 2011
"Mary Kay Coyne has just filed what she says is her 1,862nd job application since being thrown out of work three years ago."
Mary Kay Coyne has just filed what she says is her 1,862nd job application since being thrown out of work three years ago.
She is one of millions of Americans whose unemployment benefits have expired -- after 99 weeks in many states -- as the United States suffers its highest level of long-term unemployment since 1948.
Coyne had to move in with a friend after benefit payments ran out last year. Now she gets by on Medicaid -- U.S. health insurance for the poor -- and food stamps, contributing what little she can to her friend's household costs.
"You're 56-years old and you feel like you are sitting on a big pile of nothing," said Coyne, who spends about four hours a day sending out resumes.
"For the better part of a year, I have something sitting on my chest. It's not a medical condition. It is that pressure of 'Is this going to end, when is this going to end?'"
Unlike in much of Europe, the safety net of the U.S. welfare system times out for the long-term unemployed. The federal government and many states have provided extra help for those caught up in the worst labor market in decades but the U.S. debt crisis rules out further extension of the programs.
Coyne is typical of many middle-class Americans now struggling to get by.
She used to earn $70,000 a year as an administrative assistant until her firm began to downsize and left Coyne among the growing number of Americans struggling to live on unemployment benefits, and eventually on minimal food aid.
Now Washington is considering cuts to social welfare programs to shrink a swelling budget deficit.
It may not only be Americans like Coyne who feel the pain. Some economists say the cuts could make it even harder to shrink long-term unemployment that damages the wider economy by dampening consumer demand and lowering output.
In 2010, an estimated 3.9 million unemployed Americans exhausted unemployment benefits, according to the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group that campaigns for lower-wage workers.
More than 14 percent of the U.S. unemployed have been out of a job for 99 weeks, or longer.
The Labor Department’s report on Friday showed that the unemployment rate climbed to a six-month high of 9.2 percent in June.
Many so-called "99ers" subsist on social services like food stamps and Medicaid, programs now in danger of deep cuts demanded by many Republicans in Congress in exchange for allowing the federal government to go deeper into debt.
"An increase in demand for social services is what you would expect in a downturn of this magnitude and so the fact that they are cutting the social safety net is quite perplexing," said Sylvia Allegretto, a labor economist at the University of California at Berkeley. "We've just never seen (long-term unemployment) at these levels, period."
Forty six percent of those looking for work have been jobless for six months or more and the average length of job searches that eventually result in a hiring has doubled to 10 weeks between 2007 and 2010.