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State jobless pay to end for many

Extension runs out for 2,500 workers, the first to lose aid

By Robert Gavin
Globe Staff / September 5, 2009

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Massachusetts is experiencing its first wave of jobless workers to exhaust unemployment benefits after nearly two years of rising unemployment, state labor officials said.

The state this week sent out letters notifying about 2,500 jobless workers that they had or would soon receive their last unemployment checks, having used up state and federal extensions that provided up to 79 weeks, or about 18 months, of benefits. The state expects about 21,000 jobless workers to run out of unemployment benefits by Thanksgiving.

Nationally, about 400,000 jobless workers will exhaust their benefits over the next few months.

“They shouldn’t give up hope,’’ said Suzanne Bump, state secretary of labor and workforce development. “They should continue job searches, no matter how discouraging the results have been. They should avail themselves of all the state and nonprofit assistance available.’’

Those who have exhausted jobless benefits could be eligible for welfare, food stamps, and other social assistance programs. In the letter, labor officials provided a list of state and nonprofit agencies that may be able to help. Residents also can call 211, a state hot line staffed by specialists to provide referrals and information about health and human services.

The depletion of unemployment benefits is another measure of the depth of the national recession, widely viewed as the worst since the Great Depression.

US employers have cut back employment for 20 consecutive months, slashing payrolls by more than 7 million jobs. Since the recession began in December 2007, the unemployment rate has nearly doubled to 9.7 percent, from 4.9 percent.

In Massachusetts, the recession began a little later, but the plunge has been nearly as swift. The jobless rate jumped to 8.8 percent in July, from 4.7 percent in March 2008, when the recession began here. Many economists expect unemployment in the state to exceed the 9.1 percent reached during the recession of the early 1990s.

Massachusetts employers have cut nearly 120,000 jobs, or about 4 percent of employment, since the recession began. In July, the state changed a law to prevent as many as 85,000 jobless residents from losing federally funded extended benefits.

Long-term unemployment has become a growing problem across the nation, one that Congress is likely to take up after lawmakers return from summer recess next week. Among the concerns: An emergency federal program that provides up to 33 additional weeks of benefits is set to expire at the end of the year.

Bump said Governor Deval Patrick has been working with other governors to press Congress for additional relief. “We haven’t seen this kind of job loss in 60 years,’’ she said.

Bump said those who have exhausted benefits should continue to use the state’s career centers for help with job searches. Career center locations can be found at www.mass.gov/careercenters or by calling 1-877-US-2JOBS.

In addition to the 211 hot line, residents can get information about cash assistance, food and nutrition assistance, and other programs by visiting www.mass.gov and clicking on the “For Residents’’ tab.

Robert Gavin can be reached at rgavin@globe.com.