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About 2 Million to Use Up Jobless Benefits

By LEIGH STROPE, AP Labor Writer

WASHINGTON - Nearly 2 million people are expected to exhaust their state unemployment benefits in the first half of the year without access to more government aid or a regular paycheck, according to a study released Thursday.


The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities based its study on Labor Department (news - web sites) data of jobless workers who began receiving regular unemployment benefits in the last half of 2003. It assumes the economy will improve slightly in the coming months, making it modestly easier to find a job.

"In no other January-June period on record have so many unemployed workers exhausted their regular benefits without qualifying for additional weeks of unemployment assistance," said the study by the Washington-based advocacy group for poor and moderate-income people.

Congress has refused to approve another extension of federal unemployment benefits for people who exhaust their state aid.

"They have refused to allow a vote," said Chris Owens, policy director for the AFL-CIO, which is pushing for another extension.

The economy is improving, and layoffs have eased. But jobs still are hard to come by. Although the nation's unemployment rate fell to 5.7 percent in December, businesses added only 1,000 new jobs.

Republicans who control Congress say a third extension of the program providing 13 weeks of emergency benefits isn't necessary with unemployment declining.

But Democrats hope to force an about-face on the issue in an election year. The economy has lost 2.3 million jobs since President Bush (news - web sites) took office in January 2001.

According to the study, about 375,000 people will use up their state unemployment benefits this month without access to extra aid — the largest on record, even after adjusting for growth in the work force. Most states provide about 26 weeks of benefits.

Another extension of the emergency benefits would cost the government under $1 billion a month from the unemployment insurance trust fund, which contains about $20 billion, the center said.




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