In better times, news that the number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits is declining would be welcome. However, in a time of 9 percent national unemployment and 15 percent unemployment in the Black community, declining numbers of benefits recipients is cause for concern instead of cheer.
Last year, 75 percent of unemployed Americans were receiving benefits. Now, amid some of the worst economic conditions, only 48 percent of unemployed receive jobless benefits because they have reached the maximum duration of 26 weeks — in effect, booting some of the most needy out of the program. According to current data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployed African-Americans spend, on average, 40 weeks looking for their next position. And across all races, data shows that most jobseekers are generally out of work for an average of 38 weeks.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the income from unemployment benefits prevented 3.2 million people from slipping into poverty last year. The bureau also reported that a record 16 percent of the country is now considered to be living in poverty.
Last week, Congressional Democrats unveiled a plan to extend benefits from the standard 26 weeks of coverage to 99 weeks in some of the country’s hardest hit areas. Word on whether the plan will be approved will arrive by the end of the year. Until then, those whose benefits have run out or for whom the deadline is fast approaching must look to food stamps and other assistance programs to make up for the lost income.
According to lawmakers, 2.1 million people are scheduled to lose their benefits by January and by the end of 2012 more than 6.1 million will have lost theirs.
(Photo: AP Photo/Paul Sancya)