As Extended Unemployment Benefits Wane, Founder of Neighbors-Helping-Neighbors Issues Call to Action

A man standing in front of an old pickup truck holding a sign begging for work.
Shutterstock/Sharon Day

On Dec. 28, all people currently receiving unemployment insurance through the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program will lose their benefits, unless the government decides to extend it by an additional three months. This seems very unlikely with the budget bill having passed through Congress this past Wednesday.

While there has been talk of coming back to the issue in January, when Congress returns from recess, it will be too little, too late for the 1.3 million unemployed citizens who will be affected by this decision.

There has been a major divide in Washington over the issue of unemployment benefits, with Republicans claiming that things are getting better, and people shouldn't need the extra aid anymore, while Democrats counter that, with the unemployment rate still as high as 9 percent in some states, the additional aid is still necessary to help out with the massive crisis that continues to plague the country.

Unfortunately, these ideological differences weren't enough to prevent Congress from passing the bill without the extended benefits, leaving things just about as bad as they found it this year.

How extended benefits work
Right now, the way the unemployment insurance program works is that, under normal economic conditions, the state is responsible for paying out benefits for up to a maximum of 26 weeks. When the economy suffers extreme hardships, as it has since 2008, the Federal Government extends Unemployment Insurance benefits by an additional number of weeks to be determined by how bad the unemployment rate appears to be at the time.

This additional time is broken down into "tiers," with each tier, up to Tier 4, available to be added in or remove as needed. They are as follows:
Tier 1: 14 weeks
Tier 2: 14 weeks if the state unemployment rate is 6 percent or higher
Tier 3: 9 weeks if the state unemployment rate is 7 percent or higher
Tier 4: 10 weeks if the state unemployment rate is 9 percent or higher

Between 2009 and 2012, when unemployment rates were at their worst, the maximum number of weeks was extended to 99, and there were so many long-term unemployed citizens they even garnered a nickname as "99ers."

Extended benefits have since been cut back to 47 weeks, ostensibly due to unemployment rates dropping, but the trouble is that the manner in which the Unemployment Insurance program determines the current rate does not accurately reflect the true state of unemployment in the country.

In addition to the 1.3 million people losing their benefits at the end of 2013, about 4.9 million more are expected to exhaust their benefits in 2014, and those still out of work even after they are no longer receiving financial relief from the government will be in dire straits.

Ultimately, the unemployment insurance benefits are a Band-Aid on a bullet wound; it might help staunch some of the bleeding, but if something more significant isn't done to fix things soon, it will begin to hemorrhage, causing total economic collapse. There needs to be a serious effort put forth towards finding ways to create new jobs, or expand the opportunities in the ones currently available. While we understand this is not going to just magically happen, steps can be taken to begin moving towards this goal right now.

Make your voice heard with your representatives
The first thing that needs to happen is for all citizens, whether they are currently employed or unemployed, to reach out to their representatives and demand that their voice be heard in the national debate concerning the state of the economy. If you have an idea or an opinion on the subject, send an email, or even an old-fashioned letter, to your local Congressman or Congresswoman and Senators.

12 Tips for Christmas

In the meantime, here is a list of some practical tips you can apply to your own situation in order to give yourself a better chance at finding a job:

1. Be Positive: It is important to understand how difficult the job market is today, and that it is not necessarily your fault that you are out of work and having difficulty finding a new job. However, you must own your job search and start taking the necessary steps to improve the way you present yourself to potential employers. Just remember that you are not alone in this situation, and every job you get passed over for actually brings you one step closer to the one you will get.

2. Stay Motivated: It is easy to become disheartened when you have been out of work for a significant amount of time, and seeing reports in the media about high unemployment rates and benefits being cut off can make it seem like things are never going to get better. The best way to combat falling into a rut or depression is to stay active. Make a point of sending out resumes or filling out applications at least once a day, even if it's to a job you don't think you can get, as job seeking is a skill that needs to be practiced, just like playing the piano or lifting weights.

3. Create a Personal Marketing Plan: Create a list of target companies and industries you want to work for, so you can channel your efforts into a more focused job search. Looking for work is a full-time job, and to increase your chances of being successful, you need to approach it that way. Researching information about the what a company does, where it fits within the industry, and what will be expected of you in the available position will aid you tremendously when you are in front of a potential employer, and show that you have the knowledge and motivation to be successful with them.

4. Evaluate Skills and Abilities: Assessing your own abilities and how you apply them to your chosen vocation can help you figure out which are your strongest skills, and which you may lack or need to improve upon. It is important to be honest with yourself when evaluating your skills and abilities, even though it can be a difficult thing to do. Asking a trusted friend or family member for a peer evaluation is also a very useful tool, as they can give you feedback and advice on how you appear to a potential employer. If you can afford a professional career counselor, they can provide additional aid beyond what basic job seeker support groups can offer, but it is important to research their credentials and reliability; getting a reference or positive feedback from other job seekers on a counselor they used is a good place to start.

5. Improve Your Resume: Your resume should reflect the best you have to offer, and it should clearly and concisely communicate who you are and what you can provide to a potential employer, as it will need to get past a variety of filters and screeners before finding its way in front of the person in charge of hiring new employees. Keywords are an important aspect of a successful resume, as an overwhelming number of them are being electronically reviewed first. Search online for examples of other resumes, or ask to see ones being used by people you know, so you can compare and contrast them with yours. If your resume is getting you to an interview, then you know it is working, but it can always be improved. Don't be afraid to ask potential employers what it was in your resume that made them pick you over all the other candidates, and what parts they ignored or did not like. Just remember that in the end, a resume is a tool to get your foot in the door, not land the job.

6. Practice Job Interviews: Practicing your job interview skills is just as important for finding employment as rehearsals are for a successful Broadway play. Hold mock interviews with friends or family members playing the part of the interviewer, and have them ask you both questions you expect, as well as throwing you a few curveballs to hone your abilities to think and speak on the fly. If you cannot find someone to help you with a mock interview, try taping yourself answer questions established beforehand, and then review it from the mindset of an employer, looking for where the weak points can be improved, and reinforcing the parts where you thrive.

7. Learn How To Network: If you are not already doing so, learning how to network with people is a skill that will help you succeed in your job search endeavors. With the number of candidates for jobs increasing while the amount of available positions is dwindling, job openings are becoming more and more of a precious commodity. While it is important to send out resumes and chase down leads from newspapers or job sites, that alone isn't enough anymore to ensure success. There are many people from a variety of industries out of work right now, so going to a job seeker support group, taking continuing education classes, or attending unemployment seminars are a great way to meet others in a similar situation as you.

Inevitably, some of those people will get jobs, and if you've established a relationship with them, even if they are not in the same field as you, they could always hear of opportunities or meet other people through their company that could help you. At the same time, if you are the one who finds a job, keeping in touch with those you have met and reaching out to them if you think you could help them will ensure that you have a solid network built in the event that you need their aid with anything in the future.

8. Use LinkedIn: The website has become a powerful resource for job seekers, offering opportunities to both search for job openings and building your network. It might seem overwhelming to learn at first, but using the tools provided on the site to aid new users, or finding others who know how to use it that are willing to teach you is well worth the time. You can join groups pertaining to your field or industry, and build up a network of contacts that allows you to connect to others that have also connected to your contacts, establishing a large population of people you can connect with to aid in your job search. While LinkedIn does have a paid service with additional resources, creating a free account will provide you with everything you need to begin the process and expand your network.

9. Never Stop Learning: Once you know the skills you need to achieve your job search goals, and are continuing to improve and update them, it can be useful to learn new skills or seek out new experiences that you have never had before. Volunteer work can provide you with opportunities to expand beyond the scope of that to which you are accustomed, and allow you to interact with people you may not otherwise have gotten the chance to meet.

There are countless resources for seminars, webinars, and online education that are either free or modestly priced, and allow you to learn at your own pace and whenever you can find time. In addition, thanks to the advent of the internet, nearly anything you want to learn is practically at your fingertips, merely a clicked link or a Google search away.

10. Consider Relocation: In many cases, companies, or even entire industries, have moved to different parts of the country, where job growth might be better and local economies healthier. The top 10 states with high unemployment rates account for nearly 57 percent of the country's total unemployment, meaning there is enormous competition in those areas. If it will not be too difficult to move to a place where there is more opportunity and less competition, it is worth considering that option, especially when the government is not providing the aid needed to the most-affected areas.

11. Join or Start a Job Search Group: Utilizing the talents of a group of people is a proven technique for solving overwhelming and complicated problems. Find programs that can help with your specific needs, and gain the benefit of brainstorming, support, and feedback from other people, especially as they are going through the very same things that you are, and can use your help as well. Search online or check your local news sources for information on any groups near you that offer aid for job seekers, and if there aren't any that you feel suit your needs, you can always try starting one. In the Northeast, there are venues that host meetings held by Neighbors-helping-Neighbors USA, a non-profit job seeker support group with wonderful members who are willing to help one another during this trying time.

12. Pay It Forward: The pay it forward mentality is very important in today's world, and it shows the true character of the people who do this without any expectations. There are people with all kinds of needs that depend on the generosity of others to help them. The rewards will be beyond anything you could imagine.

Visit the Neighbors-Helping-Neighbors unemployment resource center

CBO: Unemployment Extension Would Boost Employment
CBO: Unemployment Extension Would Boost Employment