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Published: Friday, 9/4/2009

Millions pondering life after aid

ASSOCIATED PRESS

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jobless since January, Donald Money has moved in with his elderly parents, stopped going to movies, and begun using less of his prescription medication so it will last longer.

This month, his unemployment check will fall by the wayside.

The 43-year-old former printing press operator is among the more than 1.3 million Americans whose unemployment insurance benefits will run out by the end of the year, placing extra strain on an economy that is just starting to recover from the worst downturn in a generation.

These are the most unfortunate of America's 14.5 million jobless: the ones whose benefits are drying up — in some cases after a record 18 months of government support.

With savings depleted and job opportunities scarce, people are living with relatives and borrowing cash from friends. They are even skipping meals. Through it all, they are trying to stay positive through exercise and prayer.

The government said yesterday that 570,000 laid-off workers nationally filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the number of people receiving benefits to 6.23 million.

The U.S. Labor Department is expected to report today that the August unemployment rate rose to 9.5 percent, up from 9.4 percent in July.

Mr. Money and others like him are scrambling to find work before the government safety net is taken away. On a recent day in Jacksonville, he attended a church-run job fair in a half-vacant shopping mall. Most of the vendors were vocational schools trolling for students, or recruiters for the military and fast-food joints.

Mr. Money said he'll do anything for a paycheck.

“People are just barely getting by,” said Sue Berkowitz, the director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, an advocacy group that helps the poor with legal issues surrounding rent and mortgage contracts.

In the past year, almost 5.5 million people exhausted their 26 weeks of standard benefits without finding work. The government says the “exhaustion rate” is the highest on records dating from 1972.

Some 3.4 million people depend upon extended benefits approved by Congress lasting from 20 weeks to a year — the longest extensions ever added.

The government does not track how many jobless Americans have exhausted their standard and extended benefits, but experts estimate the figure to be almost 100,000 — and rising.

According to the National Employment Law Project, more than 402,000 Americans will exhaust their unemployment benefits by this month's end. That figure will more than triple by the end of December unless another extension is authorized.

Trying to maintain a good attitude is key, said Mike Allen of Riverside County, Calif., who received about 13 weeks of unemployment benefits earlier in the year. He wasn't eligible for more because he owned his own business and didn't pay enough into the state's unemployment fund to qualify him for more assistance.

Mr. Allen, 41, moved his wife and 15-year-old daughter into his parents' home in early August.

“They've got a small house,” he said. “But it's a roof. We'll help out with food.”



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