This was pretty easy to predict.
A bill offered by Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., and expected to pass easily would provide 13 weeks of extended unemployment benefits for more than 300,000 jobless people who live in states with unemployment rates of at least 8.5 percent and who are scheduled to run out of benefits by the end of September.
The 13-week extension would supplement the 26 weeks of benefits most states offer and the federally funded extensions of up to 53 weeks that Congress approved in legislation last year and in the stimulus bill enacted last February.
Some 5 million people, about one-third of those on the unemployment list, have been without a job for six months or more, a record since data started being recorded in 1948, according to the research and advocacy group National Employment Law Project.
"It smashes any other figure we have ever seen. It is an unthinkable number," said Andrew Stettner, NELP's deputy director. He said there are currently about six jobless people for every job opening, so it's unlikely people are purposefully living off unemployment insurance while waiting for something better to come along.
"It is likely the exhaustion rate will continue to increase in coming months" as the unemployment rate continues to rise, he said.
McDermott in July introduced a more ambitious bill that would have extended through 2010 the compensation programs included in the stimulus act. Those benefits are now scheduled to expire at the end of this year.
But with a price tag of up to $70 billion, that bill would have been far more difficult to pass. McDermott instead decided to offer the scaled-down 13-week extension to meet the urgent needs of those seeing their benefits disappear this year.