Almost five million Americans are considered long-term unemployed, meaning they have been searching for work for at least six months.
This week, their plight is getting a bit tougher as the government cuts their unemployment benefits because of the automatic reductions in federal spending that took effect recently.
On a recent day, about 40 people turned out at a Manhattan jobs center run by the New York Labor Department to get advice on looking for work. These are all people who have been out of work for at least 27 weeks.
Once you’ve been out of work as long as these people have regular unemployment benefits run out, and once they do the federal government provides extended benefits. Joomati Notsopoulos was laid off a year ago from her job as a sales assistant and has been getting a check for $220 a week. She’s been told her next check will be smaller, a casualty of the budget stalemate in Washington.
“I was kind of depending on my unemployment for extra help and they’re cutting it back,” Notsopoulos says.
The cuts in the budget for long-term unemployment benefits are not big; about 10 percent. Maurice Emsellem of the National Employment Law Project says the actual reductions in people’s checks will be bigger than that, at least over the next few months.
“Because the sequester is calculated on a fiscal year, which started in October, the amount of the cut has to be condensed into a much shorter time period,” Emsellem says. “So they have until the end of September to implement a year’s worth of cuts in benefits.”
Emsellem isn’t optimistic that the money will be restored anytime soon. He says Washington has moved on from the sequester controversy.
“That’s it … when these benefits are cut there’s no turning back,” he says. “So if I am on benefits this week and my state starts to implement this sequester, then I lose $30 from my $300 unemployment check.”
That $30 might not seem like a lot, but Joan Cirillo says it is when you’ve been out of work a long time and are just scraping by. Cirillo is executive director of a program called Operation ABLE of Greater Boston, which tries to help middle-aged and older people find work. She says a lot of the unemployed people she works with are worried about the impact of the cuts.
“For many of these people they’re just trying to eke out enough to cover mortgage payments; just the essentials,” Cirillo says. “So if you start cutting these benefits it really does hit them very hard.”
Cirillo’s organization is feeling the sequester cuts in other ways too. It runs a training program that provides minimum-wage jobs to the unemployed, and she’s been told funds for that program will also be cut.