More jobless benefits give breathing room


POSTED: Sunday, November 23, 2008





        Congress has approved an extension of unemployment benefits.

An unemployment rate that remained steady through the last two months can be seen as a sign of relief in Hawaii's gloomy economy and with Congress extending jobless benefits, those out of work in the islands might be able to meet their financial obligations a bit longer.

Though the state's 4.5 percent rate did not increase from September to October, there were still 12,050 more people unemployed last month than in October 2007 when the rate was 2.8 percent. This means that a total of 30,250 people in Hawaii are without jobs. Nationwide, 6.5 percent or 10 million people are searching for work.

Those figures might be deceptive because of the way government tallies the unemployed, leaving out people whose benefits have expired, those who have taken part-time jobs but still want full-time work and others who have given up job searches altogether.

A House-passed bill to extend unemployment benefits had lingered without further action since October, but when the Labor Department reported Thursday that claims for benefits nationally jumped by half a million last week - the highest since July 1992 - the Senate swiftly cleared the measure.

The Bush administration had previously opposed the extension, claiming it was a disincentive, that people would collect the near-poverty level benefit averaging $300 a week as long as they could before actually looking for work.

The administration, however, came to realize that the economy has been shedding jobs at an alarming pace and agreed to the bill.

The unemployed in states with rates above 6 percent will be entitled to an additional 13 weeks above the 26 weeks of benefits. Hawaii's rate will allow out-of-work residents to receive seven more weeks.