WASHINGTON -- Fewer jobless Americans now receive unemployment benefits than at any other point in the past few decades, according to a new analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.
The liberal Washington think tank reports that as of August, just 25.9 percent of jobless workers were receiving unemployment insurance, the lowest rate since 1987. Unemployed workers are only eligible for benefits if they were laid off after an extended period of employment.
The so-called recipiency rate has declined not because of the economy's improvement, but because of deliberate decisions by state and federal policymakers.
"With 2.1 job seekers for every job opening, Congress has essentially shredded the safety net while chances of finding work remain distressingly low," Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute said in a blog post.
Layoff victims traditionally are eligible for six months of state benefits, and Congress usually extends that period with federal benefits when the economy tanks. After lawmakers lengthened the duration of benefits in response to the Great Recession, the recipiency rate peaked at 67 percent in 2010. But in 2012 Congress began shortening the duration of extra benefits, before dropping them altogether at the end of 2013.
The rate of the jobless receiving unemployment insurance has also declined because Republican lawmakers in seven states have cut the duration of state-funded benefits from the typical 26 weeks that prevailed before the economy crashed in 2007.
There were 9.6 million unemployed in August, including 3 million long-term jobless beyond the reach of state benefits. Fewer than 2.5 million receive unemployment insurance, according to the latest data from the Labor Department. The number of long-term jobless, defined as those out of work at least six months, is falling fast but remains higher than at any other time since 1948.
This chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the number of long-term jobless Americans over time (the numbers on the y-axis are in thousands).
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