A record-high 375,000 jobless workers will exhaust their unemployment insurance this month and an estimated 2 million workers will find themselves in the same predicament during the first half of the year, according to an analysis of Labor Department statistics by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The report from the center, a liberal research and policy group, found that in the first six months of the year, about 5,800 jobless workers in the District of Columbia, 20,200 in Maryland and 29,600 in Virginia will run out of unemployment benefits unless they find new jobs or get additional government help.
The jobless recovery has become an issue in this presidential election year, and the report shows the jobless benefits will run out for large numbers of workers in several key states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina and South Carolina.
While the unemployment rate dropped to 5.7 percent in December, down from 6.3 percent in June, businesses added only 1,000 jobs that month. The country has lost more than 2.8 million manufacturing jobs in a steady erosion over the past 41 months.
Congress voted in 2002 to give unemployed workers an additional 13 weeks of benefits and extended the program twice. But it expired just before Christmas. Congressional Republicans said another extension wasn't necessary because the economy was gaining strength and job growth was near at hand.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who has proposed extending the benefits again, told reporters yesterday that such action is needed because "we are living in an economy that is not creating jobs."
"Republicans lead the opposition on an unemployment insurance extension because they believe they have solved America's economic problems," Clinton said. "People are desperate but they are being ignored by the Bush administration."
Labor Department officials noted that President Bush approved extensions of jobless benefits since he took office.
"New jobs have been created five months in a row, while the nation's unemployment rate and new [insurance] claims have fallen significantly," Ed Frank, a department spokesman, said in a statement. "Still, the president has said many times that he's not going to rest until every person who wants a job can find one."
"We're in a deficit situation, and we need to be very careful about government expenditures," said Jack Finn, a spokesman for Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who opposed a recent effort by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) to seek unanimous consent for a vote on extending unemployment insurance benefits again.
"We can't get into the position where benefits are extended indefinitely," Finn said. "There needs to be a point where we draw the line."
The center's report said the 375,000 workers who will draw their last jobless check this month is the highest number for January in the three decades that the statistics have been tracked.