Earlier this week CNN Money posted a story  that pegged the bill for unemployment benefits at around $319 billion over the last three years. In those three years, the length of benefits has steadily increased to the now 99 weeks of unemployment benefits. Ninety-nine weeks is nearly two full years of unemployment benefits. On November 30th, approximately two million unemployed individuals will lose coverage because they’ve been on unemployment benefits for so long. The total number of people collecting unemployment insurance is 8.5 million, which includes 4.8 million on federal benefits.
On the one hand, giving unemployment benefits is probably one of the most effective ways to stimulate the economy. I think it’s safe to say that those on unemployment and collecting insurance will probably be spending that money, which goes right back into the economy. Unlike other methods of stimulus, very few are saving this cash for a rainy day because it is a rainy day.
As an aside, to all those folks screaming at the bank rescue bailouts and car manufacturer bailouts and wondering where their bailout is… this is it. 99 weeks of unemployment insurance is that bailout.
On the other hand, 99 weeks is a very long time and I’m stunned by the number of people who have been unemployed for so long. You have to throw all your assumptions out the window because two million is a lot of people and many, if not all of them, have to be hurting to be out of work that long. You can’t assume they’re lazy and happy collecting insurance for 99 weeks. You can’t assume they’re picky job seekers and passed on jobs in the last 99 weeks. You just have to take it at face value and understand that it’s just been impossible for them to find a job. Sure, you’ll have a few people who are too picky or happy cashing the checks for 99 weeks but I’d put on my compassion hat and say the rest are truly having a difficult time (unemployment insurance isn’t exactly a windfall either).
Another aside, it turns out that in the time I wrote this (Wednesday) and when this will post (Friday), the House failed to pass a bill  that would have extended benefits.
What do you think?
(Photo: yourdon )