As of this week, the number of long-term unemployed people who are no longer receiving unemployment benefits hit the 2 million mark, according to the National Employment Law Project.
At the end of last year, Congress failed to extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program that made sure those who had been out of work for 26 weeks or more received unemployment benefits. That immediately left 1.3 million people without a lifeline, and the ranks will swell to 2.3 million by April 5 if Democrats can’t find a way to make Republicans drop their filibuster of the extension.
Lori of Austin, Texas is one of those millions going without unemployment benefits. “I started working when I was 12 years old, started paying taxes when I was 15 years old,” she told ThinkProgress. At almost 60 years old, she has more than 40 years of experience as a registered nurse working in the neonatal intensive care unit of hospitals.
But she lost her job at the end of 2012. She went a few months without benefits on the assumption that she would quickly find new work, but that didn’t pan out. By March of last year, without a job or any prospects, she enrolled in the unemployment benefits program. She started the EUC program in September but then was cut off along with everyone else at the end of the year. “What irritates me about this is that I have worked hard all my life, I have not lived on the government nor any of their hand out programs,” she said. “This is a benefit that an employer takes out of your salary and you pay in so that when something happens, you have this benefit.”
“I’ve been working and paying taxes since I was 15 years old and I’ve been a responsible human being,” she noted. “Is this really what it’s come to?”
It has been tough to find new employment. “At my age, nobody wants to hire you or retrain you knowing you’re almost 60 and you’re going to bail out on them in two to five years,” she said. Meanwhile, she pointed out, “I am no longer in the workforce, no longer paying taxes into the system.” Unemployment benefits actually encourage people to look harder for work, but the long-term unemployed face a steep uphill battle: studies have found that they are less likely to be viewed as qualified or to get a call back for an interview than those who have been unemployed for shorter durations.
In the meantime, she has had to move out of her home in Austin and lease it to her daughter and son-in-law and move from place to place, living out of her car and staying with friends and relatives, including sleeping on a friend’s floor. She’s had to dip into the emergency savings she had shored up while working. “I eat a lot of apples, fruits and vegetables, cheap stuff, I’ve basically gone vegan,” she noted, which has meant she’s lost weight. She’s not alone in facing dire circumstances when benefits dry up. In 2012, the Government Accountability Office found that the poverty rate of those who exhausted benefits was 5 percent higher than the rest of the population and more than 40 percent were living on the brink of poverty. Just a third turned to government programs to get by, most enrolling in Social Security. About 90 percent instead relied on a family member’s income or money from retirement, savings, or collecting rent.
Lori noted that she has been a lifelong Republican but “that’s getting ready to change.” While she’s no fan of Democrats, saying the two parties are in bed together, she said she’s “disgusted with my Republicans who have blocked this and don’t care about the real hardworking people.”
“I love my country,” she said with pride. “I don’t think there’s a better country on the face of this world to live in. But I do not love our government and what’s happening to this country.”
She’s not the only one being hurt by the lapse in benefits. By April 5, those who are going without benefits will have lost out on $5.4 billion in support. That means less money flowing into their communities. The loss of that money is expected to mean the loss of 240,000 jobs and a 0.2 to 0.4 percent hit to GDP growth.