U.S. budget cuts hitting long-term unemployed hard

Tue Aug 13, 2013 3:50pm EDT
 
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By Paige Gance

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Phyllis Kennedy is facing a bleak future. U.S. government budget tightening has slashed her weekly unemployment check by more than a fifth, and her prospects of finding a job are grim after over a year of unemployment.

Kennedy, 57, from Little Falls, New Jersey, had her $380 weekly unemployment check cut by $85 at the end of June. Just when she was coming to terms with the blow, she learned her benefits would end altogether in three weeks, more than two months earlier than she had anticipated.

She is among the 4.3 million in the United States who are officially counted as being unemployed for more than six months. According to the U.S. Labor Department, only 37 percent of that group received benefits in July compared with a peak of 93 percent in February 2010 when there were 6.2 million long-term unemployed.

The economy's slow recovery and federal and state cuts to unemployment insurance programs have slashed the numbers receiving benefits.

"For people that are on their own, like me, a cut like this is devastating," said Kennedy, who lost her job as a mental health center administrator, and a $32,000 salary with it, more than a year ago. "I have very little emergency money left."

Thousands of miles away in Las Vegas, John Payne is also reeling from benefit cuts, which reduced his weekly check by a third to about $250. The 55-year-old commercial glass installer has not had regular work since late 2009.

"Not even when I moved out of the house as a teenager did I struggle this much," said Payne, who plugs the gaps between sporadic construction projects with unemployment insurance. "I was stunned. I knew the cuts were coming, but I never imagined it would be that much."

Benefit reductions like those suffered by Kennedy and Payne, part of the federal budget cuts known as sequester, have hammered those who have struggled the most to find jobs in this listless recovery.   Continued...

 
Phyllis Kennedy, 57, who has been unemployed for over a year is pictured at her home in Little Falls, New Jersey August 9, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly