How Long Should Unemployment Benefits Last?

Does extending unemployment benefits just end up extending unemployment?   It’s a question a lot of people are asking as the Senate passed yet another extension of jobless benefits.  The provision to extend unemployment benefits is part of a $138 billion package which also extends dozens of expiring tax benefits, eases corporate pension requirements, and heads-off a cut in Medicare reimbursements to doctors.  The bill passed in a 62-36 vote.

The unemployment provision in the new bill extends benefits up to 99 weeks, which is almost 2 years. Benefits have generally been limited to 26 weeks or 6 months, but several extensions already enacted have elongated the benefit time period to 78 weeks, which is 18 months.  And now, this will extend it again to 99 weeks.

The extensions come in the face of extraordinarily trying economic times which have made finding a job difficult.  The jobless rate held steady at 9.7% in February, with 14.9 million Americans reportedly out of work.  Those individuals have been unemployed for an average of 29.7 weeks.

Critics say the unemployment benefits program which was created as a temporary bridge for laid off workers is turning into a very expensive entitlement.  About 11.4 million out-of-work people now collect unemployment compensation, at a cost of $10 billion a month.  Unemployment compensation is funded largely through employer taxes, but occasional extensions by Congress are made on a federally funded basis.

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