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January 13, 2014

Loss of jobless aid leaves many with bleak options

WASHINGTON — A cutoff of benefits for the long-term unemployed has left more than 1.3 million Americans with a stressful decision:

What now?

Without their unemployment checks, many will abandon what had been a futile search and will no longer look for a job — an exodus that could dwarf the 347,000 Americans who stopped seeking work in December. Beneficiaries have been required to look for work to receive unemployment checks.

Some who lost their benefits say they’ll begin an early and unplanned retirement. Others will pile on debt to pay for school and an eventual second career. Many will likely lean on family, friends and other government programs to get by.

They’re people like Stan Osnowitz, a 67-year-old electrician in Baltimore who lost his state unemployment benefits of $430 a week. The money put gasoline in his car to help him look for work.

Osnowitz says a continuation of his benefits would have enabled his job search to continue into spring, when construction activity usually increases and more electrical jobs become available.

He says he’s sought low-paid work at stores like Lowe’s or Home Depot. But he acknowledges that at his age, the prospect of a minimum-wage job is depressing.

“I have two choices,” Osnowitz says. “I can take a job at McDonald’s or something and give up everything I’ve studied and everything I’ve worked for and all the experience that I have. Or I can go to retirement.”

Unemployment benefits were extended as a federal emergency move during the 2008 financial crisis at a time of rising unemployment. The benefits have gone to millions who had exhausted their regular state unemployment checks, typically after six months. Last month, the extended-benefits program was allowed to expire, a casualty of deficit-minded lawmakers who argue that the government can’t afford to fund it indefinitely and that unemployment benefits do little to put people back to work.

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