More than 700,000 unemployed workers could see their benefits run out before the end of the year. Congress more than doubled unemployment benefits last year to 59 weeks in order to prevent this from happening. But with 4.1 workers per available job, it's harder now than ever for people to find work.
History tells us that the numbers are likely to get much worse — even after the recession ends. In the two previous U.S. recessions (1990-91 and 2001), unemployment continued to rise up to a year after economic recovery began.
So when can we expect the economy to improve? The National Bureau of Economic Research says recessions end when economic activity bottoms out. Bernard Baumhol, an economist with the Economic Outlook Group, thinks it's going to take some time before Americans see unemployment decline:
What comes next, I'm afraid, will be the mother of all jobless recoveries. While we may emerge from recession from a statistical standpoint later this year, most Americans will be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a recession and a recovery the next 12 months.
Economist David Resler compares recovery to a boxing match: "Even if you win the fight, it's not going to feel as good when you get out of the ring as when you went in."
The recently passed economic stimulus provides for up to another 20 weeks of unemployment benefits. But nearly a quarter of unemployed workers have now been out of work for at least six months. If that trend worsens, unemployment benefits are bound to expire for thousands more.
So how do these workers cope after their unemployment benefits run out? Some rely on food stamps and other social programs for help. Many live off of savings or help from family members; some even move in with them. Some are patching together part-time jobs, while still others see their situation as an opportunity to learn new job skills.
Most, however, simply want to find a steady job — any job. Pittsburgh resident Sterling Long echoes these sentiments. "I got no pride as long as the people in this house eat, have hot water — that's all I need."
(New York Financial Press video)