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75% of WA unemployed exhaust benefits before finding work

By Teresa Mosqueda
The Stand

It is almost impossible not to know someone who is unemployed. The unemployed are our friends, colleagues and family members. It is the chronic unemployed who are the victims of the recession, which was caused by Wall Street greed and malfeasance plus a jobless recovery exacerbated by state and federal budget cuts needed to pay for the ever-expanding list of tax loopholes for corporations and the super-wealthy.

For those of us who know them, it probably comes as no surprise to learn that most of them are exhausting their unemployment insurance benefits before they can find gainful employment. For those who are able to find jobs, they are likely to be earning significantly less than they did.

These experiences and anecdotes were validated in a new report released Thursday by the Washington State Employment Services Department. According to ESD, there are now more than 59,000 unemployed workers in this state who have used up all of their benefits prior to finding work, and every week, more than 600 additional recipients are running out of benefits.

Earlier this spring, the department surveyed 31,000 individuals of the then 47,026 Washington workers who had exhausted their unemployment benefits.  Of the 5,065 who responded, more than 75% said they were still unemployed after their benefits were exhausted. Of those who did find employment, 80% are now earning an average 29% less than they earned in their former jobs.

This does not signal a road to recovery.

Other key findings from the ESD survey:

  • Less than 25% of those who exhausted their unemployment insurance have returned to work.
  • Of those who returned to work, about 19% found jobs out of state.
  • Of those who haven’t found work, about 13% have stopped looking.
  • Nearly half said they think age is the toughest barrier to overcome in their effort to get back to work, while more than a quarter pointed to the chronic sluggish economy.

This survey debunks politically motivated suggestions that unemployment insurance recipients are simply waiting until their benefits are exhausted until they quickly and easily find a new job.  This recession and jobless recovery is painful, it is chronic, and it is relentless. No unemployment insurance recipient wants to stay on UI benefits; they want a decent-paying job and a way to provide basic necessities for themselves and their families.

Adding insult to injury, right-wing conservatives in Congress are pushing policies to pad the pockets of the rich while cutting essential services for workers, families and the uninsured. It is unethical and immoral that rich corporations continue to make record profits while the unemployed go without assistance after exhausting their unemployment insurance benefits.

What we need is real solutions, family-wage jobs, and strategies that jump start to the economy– not more politics as usual in D.C. and in Olympia, with lawmakers pandering to every desire of the business lobbyists.

Teresa Mosqueda is Legislative & Policy Director of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the state’s largest union organization, representing the interests of more than 600 local unions and more than 400,000 rank-and-file members.

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