What happens when the benefits run out?

Cashing out retirement accounts. Selling off personal possessions. Moving in with relatives. Declaring personal bankruptcy.

Those are some of the fates met by victims of the Great Recession who exhaust their unemployment insurance benefits before finding a new job. 

Probably because of the especially cruel duration and severity of this economic downturn, the federal and various state governments have decided they want a more complete picture of what happens to people once they come to the end of their available benefits and thereby drop off of both the official rolls and count of America's jobless.

The Huffington Post today reports that about one-third of people who run out of benefits eventually do find jobs, while another third are forced to instead tap into another safety net program. The final third manage to scrape by relying on family members. Those findings came from a new report from the federal Government Accountability Office.

"Using the most recent available data, the GAO found that of the 2 million people who lost jobs and ran out of unemployment insurance from 2007 to 2009, only 35% had found work by January 2010," reported The Huffington Post's Arthur Delaney, author of A People's History of the Great Recession. "Eighteen percent left the workforce and 46% remained totally unemployed (twice the jobless rate for "exhaustees" before the recession)."

But far from the picture painted by any number of Republican office holders and presidential candidates who insist that the jobless are lazy bums who want to live off of the public dole the GAO found that just 18% received some type of Social Security benefit, only 15% received food stamps, and less than 3% landed on welfare. 

Several states last year also checked in on people who ran out of benefits and came up with similar results. In my home state of Nevada, 27% of those who ran out of unemployment insurance turned to another part of the state's safety net, according to the Silver State's November 2011 report. More than one-third of Connecticut and Washington state residents who exhausted their benefits landed jobs after tapping out their unemployment insurance benefit. 

Of no surprise to those of us who have lost jobs during the Great Recession, even when they do find new work, most of those who lose their jobs and exhaust their benefits have to settle for dramatic reductions in their standards of living, all of the studies found.

The GAO found that among the 35% of those who had exhausted their benefits but found work by the beginning of 2010, 71% earned less in their new jobs, and one-half had seen their paychecks shrink by more than 26%. The surveys in Connecticut and Washington also reported that the majority of those who had found new jobs after using up their UI benefits also earned much less than before they were laid off.

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