Nearing exhaustion: As recession drags on, long-term unemployed risk losing benefits

Our October edition of Numbers You Need is now out, providing a snapshot of economic and budget trends in Oklahoma through monthly data on jobs, inflation, public benefits, and state revenues, as well as the most recent quarterly data on building permits and an annual update on the poverty rate.

The most striking and challenging numbers concern the continued rise in the number of unemployed. Oklahoma’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate in August reached 6.8 percent. That is still substantially below August’s national rate of 9.7 percent, but represents an increase of 2.9 percentage points compared to August 2008. Oklahoma’s unemployment rate is now at its highest level since January 1988, when the state was at the tail end of its long post-oil boom economic slide.  The number of Oklahomans officially designated as unemployed hit 117,600 in August, a 75 percent jump from the same month last year. Meanwhile, some 47,000 Oklahomans received continuing Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits on average each week in August, a number two and one half times that of a year prior.


As the national recession drags on, increasing attention is focusing on the problem of workers experiencing long-term unemployment. A recent report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) found that a total of 6 million Americans have been unemployed for 6 months or more, an all-time record since data started being recorded in 1948. An unprecedented one in three unemployed workers has been out of work for 6 months or more.  NELP has also found that since December 2008, the number of jobless workers who find themselves unemployed for at least six months has increased three times as fast as joblessness overall.

The ballooning numbers of long-term unemployed has given increased urgency to implementing a further extension of Unemployment Insurance benefits. For those who qualify for benefits, weekly UI payments provide a vital source of financial support helping to keep families afloat and reducing the pressures on public assistance programs, such as food stamps, and private safety net providers.  Back in February, Congress approved a 13-week UI extension as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. However, NELP estimates that by December, over 1.3 million of the long-term unemployed are at risk of exhausting their unemployment benefits. This includes just under 6,000 Oklahomans.

Last week, Senate leadership introduced a measure that would extend UI benefits by 14 weeks in all states, along with an additional 6 weeks for long-term unemployed workers in states with the highest unemployment rates. Even as increasing indications emerge of an economic recovery, unemployment is expected to remain at high rates for a long time to come.  Maintaining access to unemployment benefits will not solve the nation’s job challenge but will provide vital support to cushion the blow of joblessness for hard-hit families and communities. We hope Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation will join in supporting the Senate extension of UI benefits and that Congress will take quick action to get the bill passed.


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

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