The tax cut bill passed late last night extended long-term unemployment benefits, but it didn't increase the number of weeks for which a person could collect unemployment. Instead, the extension just allows Americans to continue to file for emergency benefits, up to the 99-week threshold. That means those who have collected unemployment for up to 99 weeks, so called "99ers," will be cut off -- if they haven't been already. What do they do now?
Unfortunately, there aren't many great options for these individuals. They're in a very difficult situation, and there's no good solution before them. Here are five options they will likely consider, depending on each person's specific situation.
Liquidate Savings or Other Assets
For Americans who are lucky enough to have amassed a significant amount of savings or other assets, unemployment benefits' expiration is a little less dire. While it's a terrible feeling to burn through one's savings for regular everyday expenses, it may be unavoidable for some people. Doing so will provide these individuals with some extra time to conduct their job search, until their savings and assets are all used up or they find a job.
Move to Another City With a Healthier Job Market
If someone hasn't found a job in 99 weeks, then it's pretty plausible that they live in a region with an awful job market. For example, in Mansfield, Ohio, the unemployment rate was 10.9% in October. But just 66 miles away in Columbus, Ohio, the unemployment rate was only 8.4%. For an even more extreme example, compare Providence, Rhode Island to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Providence had an unemployment rate of 11.0% in October, while Portsmouth's was just 4.4%. A mere two-hour drive separates the two towns.
Many people prefer not to pick up and move when they lose their jobs. They may have a home, friends, and family where they live. They likely prefer not to uproot their children. But if it's simply impossible to find a job, then a move might be necessary when unemployment benefits have run out.
Look to Family and Friends for Help
Presumably, many unemployed Americans have already sought help from their family and friends. But if their unemployment benefits end, then the need for assistance from those closest to them intensifies. Some may move in with parents, other relatives, or friends, as they continue their job search without any source of income. If they have any friends or family members that own a small business, they might pressure them to create a job, even if temporary.
Get Any Job They Can
When people have the opportunity to collect unemployment after being laid off, it provides them with some cushion of time to find a new job. For some people, this means they can take more time to find something that fits their experience better. As long as some income is coming in -- even if it's a check from the government -- they may be able to pay their bills.
But without that weekly unemployment check, there's no time for patience: income of some kind is needed. Indeed, income of any kind is needed for many Americans to continue to provide for their families. That means selectivity might become irrelevant and past experience won't matter. Job searches for these individuals will become less focused, and they will be forced to take whatever they can get for the time being.
File for Welfare
If all of these options have been exhausted, there's only one left: welfare. Even though the government won't provide unemployment any longer, some people may qualify for welfare. Indeed, there's already some evidence that Americans who have fallen on hard times are increasingly relying on this form of government assistance. Welfare rolls increased in 2009 for the first time in 15 years. The rise in the number receiving food stamps was even higher.
Unfortunately, for many of these Americans, times aren't going to get easier anytime soon. The longer someone is unemployed, the harder it can sometimes be to find a job. And since the unemployment rate is expected to recede very slowly, employers will continue to be able to be very picky for at least a few more years.