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Majority of Americans support unemployment insurance extension

November 15, 2010 | 12:13 pm

The majority of Americans support the idea of extending unemployment benefits to the jobless, according to a poll out Monday from Hart Research Associates (available here as a PDF). Nearly three-quarters of the 802 registered voters surveyed agreed that it was "too early to start cutting back benefits for workers who lost their jobs."

Unless Congress takes action, unemployment insurance benefits will expire for about two million people on Nov. 30. That's the date that federal extensions expire, meaning that the jobless will not receive any benefits in addition to the initial 26 weeks awarded in most states.

"That’s a huge burden on these families, but also a burden on the retail sector of our economy," Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said in a call Monday morning.

If the benefits expire, everyone from the long-term unemployed to the newly jobless will be affected. The 400,000 workers laid off in the last six months won't be able to access a new extension beyond their initial 26 weeks of benefits. About 800,000 will face a cut-off of their benefits as soon as Dec. 4.

The Hart poll finds that 60% of those surveyed want Congress to extend unemployment benefits. The support was strongest amount Democrats (79%) and Independents (63%) and less so among Republicans (38%).Two-thirds of those surveyed said they wanted the government to provide benefits until the unemployment rate lowers "substantially." About one-quarter of those surveyed said that a trillion-dollar deficit was a reason to start cutting back benefits.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the employment rate will remain at 9.5% for the rest of 2010 and shrink only to 9.0% in 2011. It won't reach pre-recession levels of 5% until 2014, the CBO says.

The temporary federal jobless benefit extensions were added in July 2008, when the unemployment rate was 5.8%. Additional extensions have been added since then, making 34 to 53 weeks of federal benefits available, in addition to the 26 weeks provided by states. Most states have also added 13 to 20 weeks under a separate federal program.

The federal extensions are set to expire Nov. 30.

Since July 2008, the extensions have paid out almost $120 billion throughout the country. Every dollar spent on unemployment insurance is estimated to generate $1.61 of economic activity. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that if Congress extends the benefits, it will add $104 billion to the GDP and generate 723,000 full-time jobs.

-- Alana Semuels

Photo: Unemployed workers rally for more benefits. Credit: Chris Hondros / Getty Images