Over 20M collected unemplyoment in 2009 Over 20M collected unemplyoment in 2009


Published: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 4:44 p.m.

Washington

A record 20 million-plus people collected unemployment benefits at some point in 2009, a year that ended with the jobless rate at 10 percent.

As the pace of layoffs slows, the number of new applicants visiting unemployment offices has been on the decline in recent months.

But limited hiring means the ranks of the long-term unemployed continues to grow, with more than 5.8 million people out of work for more than six months.

The number of new claims for jobless benefits dropped recently to 432,000, the Labor Department said last Thursday, down sharply from its late March peak of 674,000.

The decline signals that the economy could begin adding a small number of jobs in January, several economists said.

Still, hiring is unlikely to be strong enough to quickly bring down the unemployment rate, which fell from 10.2 percent in October to 10 percent in November. December's rate will be announced Jan. 8.

Companies will remain cautious about adding staff until they are confident the economic recovery is sustainable - something they remain unsure about as consumers and businesses keep a lid on spending, and as the government begins to wind down various stimulus programs.

The Federal Reserve and private economists expect joblessness to stay above 9 percent through the end of 2010.

The slow pace of hiring will force Congress and the Obama administration in 2010 to spend as much as $70 billion to extend jobless aid for the long-term unemployed, or else let benefits - which were extended several times in 2009 - expire for millions of people.

"Fewer people are getting fired, but nobody is finding a job," said Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak.

Last Thursday's report illustrates the two different trends: first-time jobless claims are falling as layoffs ease, but the total number of people collecting unemployment checks is still rising.

More than 10.1 million people collected jobless benefits in the week of Dec. 12, the latest data available.

That's up by about 200,000 compared with the previous week.

That figure includes 5.3 million people receiving the 26 weeks of aid customarily provided by the states, and 4.8 million people that have shifted to the extended benefit programs enacted by Congress over the past two years and paid for by the federal government. Unemployment insurance averages about $300 per week.

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