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Congress fails to extend unemployment benefits

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Thousands of New Yorkers braced for a grim and Grinchy holiday as a strife-riven Congress allowed extended unemployment benefits to lapse for millions of Americans.

“The human tally of this is heart rending. This is the worst time of year for this,” said New York State Department of Labor Commissioner Colleen Gardner. “These benefits keep hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers out of poverty and are also a boost to our economy."

“It’s an outrage,” fumed Lasana Akachi, who was applying for Unemployment Benefits at the Harlem Workforce One Center. Congress is “playing politics with people’s lives. People need these resources.”

The cessation of benefits will affect Unemployment Insurance recipients at all levels, Gardner said. Those receiving the basic 26-weeks of UI will not be able to receive 20 additional weeks. Similarly, the “46-weekers” will not be allowed to collect 13 additional weeks when their current claim runs out, and so on. The average New Yorker receiving UI takes 33.9 weeks to land another job, said Gardner.

Republicans in Congress argued that while they want to help the jobless, the funding for a benefits extension should come from spending cuts. Rep. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who opposed the extension, said it would just add to the already-heaping deficit.

Lacking an extension, 95,000 people in New York City and 200,000 statewide will have exhausted their benefits by Dec. 31.

Gardner advised UI recipients to continue certifying for benefits each week in the event Congress succumbs to public pressure and passes an extension.

Congress faces a difficult decision, observed Sangeeta Pratap, Hunter College Professor of Economics: UI benefits prevent recipients from succumbing to financial ruin and boost consumption, but “also put a certain floor on the type of job,” recipients are willing to accept. “High wage jobs are not being created in the same proportion as low wage jobs,” noted Pratap. Accepting an inferior, lower paying job “is a bitter pill to swallow and it’s not your fault, but you still have to swallow that pill.”

Still, at least five applicants exist for every opening, noted Gardner, who urged the unemployed to contact “families and friends in other states ... and ask them to call, email or write their congressmen to urge them to pass a one-year extension of Unemployment Benefits.”

(With Tim Herrera)

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15 million: Number of U.S. unemployed people who have been out of work for six months or more.

9.6% National Unemployment Rate

9.2% New York City Unemployment Rate

400,000: Number of people in New York State who will lose their UI benefits by May 1 if an extension is not passed.

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Career experts recommend 5 things to do when you run out of unemployment benefits:

Get a “bridge job.” With the holidays coming up, stores will be hiring temps. With year-end coming up, companies might need a hand with tax and financial closings. H&R Block often puts on new people to help with taxes (ask if they train you…good skills, regardless). Anything from baristas through bartending can get you through the short term and doesn’t need to show up on your resume.

Volunteer. Getting out around other people and helping others accomplishes many things: it puts life in perspective, you feel better, and you might just meet some interesting people. Choose your volunteer activity with this in mind.

-Pam Lassiter, Author of “The New Job Security, Revised: The 5 Best Strategies for Taking Control of Your Career”

Tap your own skills. Many people don't realize that they have valuable skills that other people are willing to pay for, such as a second language or even craft skills. To get ideas for how to earn extra money, check out the services section on Craigslist and see what people are advertising – ie. editing, gardening, and event planning. [It] can help get you back off your feet, plus it gets you valuable job experience and the possible start of a successful small business you can continue to grow.

-Kimberly Palmer, senior editor and personal finance columnist for US News & World Report

Crack down on your expenses. Stop buying anything that you don’t eat or use in your job search. No subscription TV, no broadband (get that at the coffee shop or the library), no movies. Nothing, nada, zilch.

Keep on looking. It’s time to take any job whatsoever, but When something better comes along, you can change jobs faster than the old three-card Monte dealers in Times Square.

-Don Asher, author of the forthcoming “Cracking the Hidden Job Market”

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